His decision came hours after NPR Chief Executive John Lansing announced the creation of a new position that will oversee all of NPR’s programming – branded news programs such as “All Things Considered as well as podcasts and non-informative programs such as “Wait Wait…Don’t tell me anything. The new position of chief content officer would have effectively created another level of management over Barnes, who previously reported directly to Lansing.
Barnes and Lansing did not respond to requests for comment.
The highly regarded editor of the Houston Chronicle and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Barnes took over NPR’s news-gathering operations from an interim director following the resignation of Michael Oreskes in 2017 amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment. .
NPR said it will conduct a search for Barnes’ successor, who will become the fourth person to lead NPR’s news operations in the past five years.
She is leaving at a time of mounting financial pressure on NPR, a nonprofit funded primarily by noncommercial radio station royalties and corporate sponsorships.
For fiscal 2021, NPR recorded revenue after expenses of $16.9 million, a change from a deficit of $14.1 million the previous year. Officials said the organization has been hit hard by the pandemic, with daily listening and business support dwindling as fewer people listen to news reports while working from home. At some point in mid-2020, NPR imposed one-week unpaid furloughs on most of its newsroom employees.
Lansing announced the new chief content officer position in a memo on Friday morning. Barnes announced his resignation this afternoon.
She wrote in an internal memo that there is “increasing overlap between news and [non-news] programming divisions” and supported Lansing’s decision to add a new Chief Content Officer. She called his departure “bittersweet”.
NPR’s news division currently employs 481 people. The programming division employs an additional 183 people.
Barnes oversaw NPR’s coverage of the 2020 presidential election, the pandemic, social unrest following the murder of George Floyd, and the Russian military invasion of Ukraine. It has also created a climate bureau, a disinformation team, and a breaking news investigation team. She said she would remain in office until the 2022 midterm elections.
NPR won its first Pulitzer Prize under Barnes last year, in audio reporting, for an investigative podcast series called “No Compromise” about gun rights activists. A second NPR-produced series, “Throughline: Soleimani’s Iran,” about the assassination of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, was a Pulitzer finalist last year.