NPR CEO John Lansing plans to retire at end of 2023 President and CEO John Lansing plans to leave NPR nine months before his term is set to expire. His tenure has been defined by the pandemic, a racial reckoning, and economic headwinds.

NPR CEO John Lansing will leave in December, capping a tumultuous year

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

And now some news about NPR. Our chief executive, John Lansing, says he intends to retire at the end of the year. That's nine months before his five-year term ends. Through his tenure so far, he's faced multiple crises - the pandemic, a racial reckoning and a brutal drop in advertising revenue. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik is reporting on the development. Hi, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So Lansing's term was set to wrap up a little bit over a year from now. I know you interviewed him. What did he say about why he is retiring early?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, he's 66. He has a daughter who is studying abroad next spring. And he and his wife wanted to travel, he said, for a good stretch and meet up with her as she hit her 21st birthday. We have to recall Lansing had enjoyed decades as a successful career in commercial television, ultimately overseeing the E.W. Scripps companies - cable companies and Scripps' local TV stations and leading the parent federal agency - the U.S. - the Voice of America for the federal government. So he's done a lot. But this is early, and it's been - he's, you know, as you said, confronted a couple of crises along the way.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, things are never boring at NPR. But even by that standard, it's been an eventful past few years. Tell us about his tenure.

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah, it's been a stretch. I mean, just months into his tenure, early 2020, as we all know, there was the pandemic, and that hit every employer in the country and every person in the country. So he's not unique in that regard. But he had to figure out a way not only to sustain the company as the finances were completely thrown into chaos, but also how to broadcast live - how people like you, Ari, could do your job broadcasting from home. You know, he was told initially it might take six months to make that work remotely. They were able to do it in about a week. And he was also able to sustain morale, I think, by encouraging folks to have constant communication with staff.

Another thing he stressed was his north star - the idea that we would embrace diversity and inclusion not just as a moral issue, but as a business imperative. You saw that reflected in our workforce - that leadership top ranks went from 9% people of color to 42% in his tenure. Similarly, right now, our general workforce stands at 42%. That's up from about 33% four years ago. But I got to say, NPR's radio audiences are still older and whiter than the American population at large. You're seeing some benefits, you know, on the digital and podcasting side, but it's a tough challenge.

SHAPIRO: As the company emerged from the pandemic and began returning to work, we were suddenly hit by this deep economic hit, which led to layoffs of about 10% of our colleagues. Can you talk about Lansing's legacy there?

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah, so they started worrying about it about a year ago. And those worries became not only just freezes that we experienced around Thanksgiving last year, but ultimately tough layoffs projected early this year. They laid off, as you said, about 10% of the workforce. We lost four podcasts. And, you know, there have been real questions about how well we've strategized - whether we've been seeing around corners properly. Have we innovated enough from our original space as a dominant figure in audio as so many other media entities are competing with us? And I think that while our finances are OK right now - according to John Lansing, we're in the black - that's still, you know, a source of concern for folks.

SHAPIRO: And as he prepares to depart, there are a lot of high-level vacancies at NPR.

FOLKENFLIK: Oh, it's an incredible series of vacancies - positions that are newly filled or people who are holding the job just temporarily. Right now, vacancies - you know, our chief operating officer won't be replaced. We have a newly named position, chief content officer. Our head of programming podcasts is also going to step down at the end of the year. So key things - positions that have to be filled - and that, you know, raises the question of what strategy is going to be leading us in the future as John Lansing departs at the end of this year or early next.

SHAPIRO: NPR's David Folkenflik. Thank you.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

SHAPIRO: And under NPR's protocol, no corporate official or news executive reviewed this reporting before air.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUN B AND STATIK SELEKTAH SONG, "STILL TRILL")

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