St. Louis Public Radio staff ‘exhausted’ and still upset after general manager’s ouster

St. Louis Public Radio is searching for a new permanent general manager following the ouster of Tim Eby, after he came under pressure from journalists at the station who made public allegations of racism in early August.

University of Missouri-St. Louis officials announced a management shakeup in a staff memo on Thursday. Tom Livingston, a consultant and executive recruiter for public media stations who is also a former vice chairman of National Public Radio’s board of directors, will serve as interim GM while UMSL conducts a national search for Eby’s replacement.

“Tom will begin meeting with station leaders, teams and staff members this week to listen, engage and build a foundation to move forward together,” said the memo, which came from UMSL Vice Chancellor of Advancement Paul Herring, who is Eby’s boss. Livingston is based in Baltimore but will be making regular visits to St. Louis.

(Photo by Gerard Stolk via Flickr)

In a press release a day later, UMSL Chancellor Kristin Sobolik said the university wants to “best align the work of the station with the needs of our community as well as the academic, research, service and outreach mission of the university.” The university’s board of curators holds STLPR’s broadcasting licenses.

Eby, who had led STLPR since 2009, did not respond to a request from Gateway Journalism Review for comment. UMSL has not given a specific reason for what it is referring to publicly as a “resignation,”  but Eby has been under public pressure since August 7, when a group called STLPR Reporters and Producers of Color published an open letter on Medium accusing Eby and other managers of upholding a culture of white supremacy. A few days later Eby made a post on the station’s blog in which he acknowledged systemic racism at the station.

After news of Eby’s ouster broke, the STLPR Journalists of Color tweeted: “Everyone who spoke out and stood with us is part of our ongoing effort to achieve equity and fight racism at St. Louis Public Radio. Thank you.”

Some reporters have also criticized STLPR Executive Editor Shula Neuman for not dealing effectively enough with their concerns. Her job is also at risk.

In an interview with GJR, Neuman described reporters, producers and editors at the station as “exhausted.” STLPR used to produce six or seven longform features each week, but that has slipped to four or five a week, she added.

“It feels like the journalists aren’t as productive right now as they have been in the past, and it’s probably because they’re distracted by everything going on at the station, and the whole way this has been managed,” Neuman said. “But I give equal weight to the pandemic, the lack of in-person interaction, and the political uncertainty in the country. It’s taking a toll on everyone.”

Controversy regarding the station continues to rumble on in full public view. Some reporters reacted angrily after UMSL’s public statement disclosed that Eby will continue “in a short-term, six-month consultancy role” in order to help with the transition. University officials had not mentioned this in their meeting with staff a day earlier.

“I was cautiously optimistic that we had a space to make some real change at the station. That optimism is vanishing quickly,” courts and local politics reporter Rachel Lippmann tweeted on Saturday. She added in a further tweet that racism is “being rewarded with a contract of an indeterminate amount of money, and we have no idea whether that’s coming from STLPR or from UMSL.”

Politics reporter Jason Rosenbaum also chimed in on Twitter: “Why is this happening when we all took pay cuts and there’s a hiring freeze?” he asked.

A week before news of Eby’s departure, the Reporters & Producers of Color said on Medium that 21 staffers were on the record as having “no confidence” in an investigation of the diversity, equity and inclusion practices at the station being led by UMSL Vice Chancellor Tanisha Stevens. The journalists say they fear retaliation if they participate. (It’s not clear when the investigation, which began in August, will produce a report.)

Reporters have also questioned what UMSL administrators mean when they say they want to “align” the station with the tasks of the university. “That worries me. If UMSL tries to control our reporting. I don’t think I’ll be the only one to quit,” education reporter Ryan Delaney tweeted on Sunday.

Editors at the station hired freelance journalist Brian Munoz on Thursday to cover the news of Eby’s resignation. Munoz and his editor, Ellen Sweets, are both people of color. They worked independently without oversight from STLPR’s managers or editors. Munoz told GJR that STLPR has not asked him to write anything beyond his article published on the station’s website. (Editor’s note: Munoz also has worked as a freelance contributor at GJR).

Neuman said one thing she’s been learning to do during the controversy is “rethink what qualifies as a story” for STLPR.

Two experiences in particular have helped her realize this, Neuman recalls. One was an exchange with an STLPR reporter of color, in which the reporter explained she feels like she has to run every story idea through a “white lens” to determine if it’s the kind of story a white audience would want to hear.

The other was a recent webinar, where a Washington Post journalist of color said he shares a feeling common among reporters of always having a “little editor” on his shoulder, directing him how to approach a story. But only recently did this journalist realize that his “little editor” was always a white person, Neuman said.

“We need people who are identifying stories outside of the traditional white journalistic lens. And we need editors who know how to edit those stories, without quashing the authenticity of different voices,” Neuman said. “This is as much for the sake of our audience as it is for the sake of our journalists.”

Jack Grone is editor of McPherson, an independent journalism start-up based in St. Louis. He is a former reporter and editor for Dow Jones Newswires whose writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s. Follow him on Twitter at @McPherSTL .

Share our journalism