Jim Asendio, likely the highest-ranking African American news director at a top-tier NPR affiliate, resigned at WAMU-FM in the nation’s capital on Tuesday “because I did not agree with an upper management decision to have working journalists attend a donor-only, station-sponsored event,” he said.
“I do not believe that reporters should be exposed to the real or perceived influence of individuals or foundations who fund the work of the newsroom,” Asendio said in a message posted to washingtonpost.com. “I wish the WAMU newsroom continued success as one of Washington, D.C.’s trusted sources for local and regional news and information.”
A public radio ethics guide released in January 2004 says, “Funding decisions must be independent of editorial decisions. Program producers, stations and network management must establish procedures, appropriate for their particular organization, that maintain a firewall between funders and journalists. For example, journalists should not be prevailed upon to engage with funders [PDF].
“Unreasonable pressures on journalists create the appearance and the reality of editorial compromise.”
Asendio told Journal-isms Wednesday that when he voiced his objections to General Manager Caryn Mathes, she wrote back in an email, “Understand that your refusal to participate in a major station event involves a permanent, irreversible statement to me, about whether you are part of my team.”
The idea to include journalists in the donor-only breakfast, which took place Wednesday morning and which Asendio said was put together by the station’s development office, seems reminiscent of a plan that embarrassed then-new Washington Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth in 2009. As David Carr wrote then in the New York Times, “The Washington Post had sent out a brochure offering sponsorships — a fee of $25,000 for one, or $250,000 for an entire series — for an exclusive ‘Washington Post salon’ at Ms. Weymouth’s home in which officials from Congress and the administration, lobbyists and, yes, the paper’s own reporters could have a quiet, off-the-record dinner, discussions to be led by Marcus Brauchli, the newspaper’s editor.”
The idea was abandoned when an uproar ensued after the plan was made public.
Kay Summers, director of marketing and communications for WAMU, licensed to American University, told Journal-isms by email on Wednesday:
“Jim’s departure was a personal decision; beyond that, per University policy, we do not discuss personnel matters. Here is our firewall policy in more detail: