NPR Hires Outside Firm to Investigate Williams Firing, and Twitter facts

NPR held its fall quarterly board meeting on Nov. 11 and 12. On Thursday, there was a public comment session that allowed anyone inside or outside of NPR to comment on the firing of former news analyst, Juan Williams.

But no one stepped up to the microphone.

Here's a take on what happened from Current, the newspaper that covers public media. Also a piece by Richard Prince of Journal-isms on the board meeting that includes NPR's efforts to better diversify its staff.

NPR also announced that the NPR board had hired an outside law firm, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, to do an in-depth inquiry into what wrong with the Oct. 20 firing of Juan Williams, who also works for Fox News. NPR CEO Vivian Schiller said the review was "well-underway."

"We recommended and the board agreed that it would be prudent to commission an independent, objective third party to review both the process by which the decision was made, and the way it was implemented and communicated," wrote Schiller.

For an internal review of this nature to have real credibility, the board was smart to hire an outside firm. Weil represented CBS when former anchor Dan Rather sued the network for breach of contract and other claims in 2007.

The Weil inquiry hopefully will, and should, look into how NPR's management structure and internal decision-making process led to the mistakes in the Williams episode.

I'm told it's unlikely the final report will be made public in its entirety, though parts of it may be. I always advocate for transparency, but NPR considers this a personnel issue even though the resulting damage to NPR goes beyond the consequences of firing an independent contractor.

NPR can hire the most sophisticated investigators in the world, but how can such a review have credibility if people who care about NPR can't read the full results of it? NPR needs to find a way to make the full report —or the key parts of it —public.

POLITICO reported on Nov. 10 that Williams, who is registered as a speaker for the American Program Bureau, is much in demand after the dismissal.

"The demand for Juan Williams as a speaker has been unprecedented; APB's phones have been ringing off the hook with calls from associations, corporations and universities looking to secure Mr. Williams as a keynote speaker at their next event," according to an email POLITICO obtained from APB.

At the board meeting on Friday, Schiller again publicly apologized for how poorly the termination was handled, while insisting NPR was right to fire Williams.

"The merits of the decision to terminate Juan Williams' contract notwithstanding — and I do believe we were right to part ways — the matter was handled badly. It also came at a hard time for stations who were fundraising. Our staff and stations were unprepared for the questions that came up.

I'm promising you – NPR's staff, stations, the millions of our listeners who care deeply about us, and the general public – that we are learning from those mistakes. We are conducting a review of our process for handling the Juan Williams' matter, and, as you just said Mr. Chairman, we are also undertaking a review of our ethics guidelines to ensure they are clear, consistent, and understood by all."

ADDED 11/15/2010 @ midnight

TWITTER
NPR occasionally invites "media moguls" to come in to talk to staff. Biz Stone, one of three co-founders of Twitter, came in on Tuesday.
Here are some Twitter facts Stone shared:
• Stone wanted to be an artist when he was a kid.
• Twitter is only three years old.
• The 2007 SXSW interactive conference in Austin, TX was the first time that Twitter had significant impact "out in the world." It had been used for about nine months before that. Someone sent a tweet about a bar where people could talk and 850 people showed up. Twitter Inc. was founded two days later.
• The idea germinated from AOL's status updates on AIM.
• 175 million people have registered for a Twitter account.
• There are about 95 million tweets a day.
• 25 percent of Tweets link to longer form "content," which could include a photo, video, news story, etc.
• Twitter is growing faster internationally than domestically.
• One can Tweet in any language. But the service has been translated to French, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese —- with more languages to come.
• The name was picked leafing through the dictionary. Wanted a name that was "light-weight, fast and urgent."
• A bird enthusiast owned Twitter.com. They bought it for $7,500.
• A year and a half ago, Twitter had 30 employees. Today they have 300, and are still hiring. 65 percent are engineers.
• Stone considers Twitter an "information network," as opposed to Facebook, which is a "social network."

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