Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) is a giant, with a spoken word focused top-rated FM in Minneapolis-St. Paul; a Classical operation offering national syndication of its programming; and a highly successful Adult Alternative operation carrying on the tradition of the original “Cities 97” in the Twin Cities.
It’s an arm of American Public Media (APM), and has been the latest organization wrestling with sexual harassment and diversity and inclusion concerns.
Those issues have now claimed APM’s President and CEO of his job.
In a message posted Wednesday (9/23) to MPR.org, Mary Brainerd, board chair of American Public Media and former HealthPartners CEO and Jon McTaggart, the chief executive of APM since being elected to his post in 2011, addressed those concerns head on.
“For more than 53 years, you have made it possible for us to live the promise of our mission to enrich minds, nourish spirits, expand perspectives and strengthen communities,” they said in a joint statement. “We can only fulfill our mission with your support, and when we have a diverse, inclusive and equitable work environment for all employees.”
With that, Brainerd and McTaggart acknowledged that, recently, they heard from current and former employees “whose experiences conflict with the values we hold close.”
They said, “We are deeply saddened by the pain felt by individuals within our organization. The board and the entire leadership team are committed to continuing to listen carefully, learn from others, and take actions – guided by our shared values – that ensure a work environment where everyone is truly safe, welcome, respected and appreciated, and programming that reflects the rich diversity of our communities.”
This resulted in the decision earlier this summer to take 12 specific actions “to accelerate our progress in becoming a more diverse, equitable and inclusive organization.” But, it now seems that wasn’t good enough for some employees at APM and MPR.
“We’ve heard from a number of employees that this plan doesn’t yet adequately address some of the changes we need to make,” McTaggart and Brainerd state. “Some of our colleagues outlined a series of actions that would further transform MPR to meet the changing needs of the audiences we serve. If our plan isn’t working, we’re going to identify the gaps and expand it to make it work. We’ve discussed, many times this year, that change and true transformation can be hard and messy, and that it takes time. We aren’t going to shy away from the change that is needed. We are listening to our employees, and we’re taking every point to heart. The action plan that was announced in July will continue, and we will build on those efforts based on input we receive from employees and other stakeholders. Our employees expect it, and they deserve it. Importantly, so do our audiences.”
That said, an “upcoming organizational change” is happening: McTaggart has asked the APM group “to begin the search for the next CEO of this great organization.”
To be clear, McTaggart’s succession plan has been in discussion since 2018. And, Brainerd noted, “the board understands and supports his decision, has confidence in the leadership team in place, and will soon outline more specifically the plans to move forward with the succession process.”
McTaggart will remain CEO of the APM Group until his successor is in place. According to the Star Tribune, the Minneapolis daily newspaper, McTaggart was paid $731,876 in fiscal 2018 for his position at APM.
Prior to taking this role in July 2011, he was COO of APM for an eight-year period. McTaggart’s experiences prior to joining MPR and APM are outside of the media industry. However, he holds a B.S. in Journalism and Communications from Bemidji State University.
McTaggart’s decision to initiate a two-year succession plan now came on the same day staff members at MPR sent a letter to listeners and readers indicating that they had lost faith in senior leadership.
Further, the Star Tribune notes, the statement from Brainerd and McTaggart did not address the dismissal of African American air personality Garrett McQueen from Classical24 and the “very public resignation” of Marianne Combs, a reporter who accused her bosses of stalling on a story about a fellow employee facing misconduct allegations. One day later, KCMP-FM air personality Eric Malmberg was dismissed from his job.
McQueen was fired for his refusal to follow protocol; he admitted to substituting songs in the overnight hours despite the playlist offered because they featured hours of music written only by “dead white men.”
The vast majority of Classical music features composers who are Caucasian. A select body of modern classical music from the last 75 years would offer programming diversity in this situation, if a chosen path for a nationally distributed network.
APM is the nation’s largest owner and operator of public radio stations (50 stations in 9 states), including Minnesota Public Radio and Southern California Public Radio, comprised of KPCC-FM in Los Angeles and simulcast properties in Palm Springs and Oxnard-Ventura.
APM also produces and distributes national programming heard on NPR Member stations including Marketplace, Live From Here and Performance Today, and is the distributor of BBC World Service programming to all public radio stations in the U.S., including WDNA-FM in Miami.