Amid tumult over how sexual harassment and racial equity has been addressed, the parent organization of Minnesota Public Radio said Tuesday that a major shift in leadership is underway.
Jon McTaggart, president and CEO of the St. Paul-based radio giant American Public Media, informed staffers in a lengthy memo that he has set in motion plans to step down.
APM is the country’s largest owner and operator of public radio, an empire that includes MPR. McTaggart has served in his current position since 2011.
A memo circulated on social media told employees that McTaggart has informed the company’s board that it is time to begin succession plans. He will remain in his role until a replacement is found, the memo said.
His announcement came on the same day MPR staffers sent a letter to listeners and readers saying that they had lost faith in senior leaders. The employees said they want the company to publicly apologize and make changes within the organization to address diversity, hiring practices and other areas.
The announcement of McTaggart’s resignation, co-signed by McTaggart and board chairwoman Mary Brainerd, didn’t directly address the two recent controversies at MPR: the dismissal of Garrett McQueen, the only Black on-air personality on MPR’s classical station, and reporter Marianne Combs’ very public resignation, in which she accused her bosses of stalling on a story about a co-worker facing misconduct allegations.
The day after Combs resigned, Eric Malmberg, a DJ for the MPR-owned station the Current, was fired.
McQueen, hired in 2018, was an overnight host for Classical 24, a program coproduced by APM and Public Radio International that provides classical music programming for public radio stations nationwide. McQueen told MPR News in a story about his firing that he would make changes to playlists when they called for hours of music written only by “dead white men.”
APM President David Kansas and MPR President Duchesne Drew said in a statement that McQueen was warned several times over the course of a year before he was fired. They said it wasn’t his choice of music or his reasons for changing the playlist that led to his termination, but the manner in which he made the changes, which didn’t follow station protocol.
Despite not addressing those issues directly, the Tuesday memo did address a desire to push for a more equitable and diverse workplace. “We are deeply saddened by the pain felt by individuals in our organization,” the memo read. “The Board and the entire leadership team are committed to continuing to listen carefully, learn from others and take actions … that ensure a work environment where everyone is truly safe, welcome, respected and appreciated.”
The employee letter made it clear that staff want to see sweeping changes. The company’s culture and news coverage neglects communities of color, and the company has fostered a harmful working environment for women and journalists of color, the letter said. They also addressed the recent hire of Drew, saying he has a commitment to equity, but that “too much is being put on his shoulders.”
The latest turmoil at MPR comes nearly three years since MPR cut ties with its biggest star, Garrison Keillor, over allegations of inappropriate sexual incidents with a woman who worked for him. Keillor, who denied any wrongdoing, has since traded in his Summit Avenue mansion for a condo in Minneapolis and sold his St. Paul bookstore.
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