WBUR General Manager Charlie Kravetz is leaving the station.
In a joint statement Monday, Boston University (BU), which owns WBUR’s broadcast license, and Kravetz said he will relinquish his day-to-day role at the station this week, but will step down effective June 30.
Sam Fleming, WBUR managing director of news and programming, will oversee operations until a permanent GM has been hired. BU says it will launch a nationwide search “in the upcoming days.”
BU says Kravetz is moving on at “an appropriate time for a transition.” WBUR’s new multimedia community venue, CitySpace, has just opened. And station journalists recently voted overwhelmingly to form a union.
“These periods are ones where you reflect on how you’re going to work going forward and we agreed with Charlie that this was an appropriate time to make a leadership change as well,” Gary Nicksa, BU’s vice president of operations, said in an interview.
Details about any separation agreement were not immediately made available.
In a statement of his own, Kravetz said his eight years at WBUR have been the best in his 40-year career.
“I’m enormously grateful to so many colleagues who have contributed to the growth and transformation of the station. At a time of great challenge for journalism and media, WBUR has essentially doubled in impact, revenue and service to the community,” Kravetz said. “Now it is time for a change for me and for WBUR. I know the station will thrive because of the exceptional talent there. I will be listening and rooting for WBUR’s continued success.”
The news was announced Monday at an all-staff meeting. Kravetz was not present at the meeting. Nicksa faced a number of questions about why Kravetz is leaving, why he was not there, and why he will only be coming into the station on an as needed basis between now and June 30, when his employment ends.
“Our decision was to make the transition quickly so the management team is able to step into new roles as quickly as possible,” Nicksa said after the meeting.
Nicksa said no operational or other management changes are expected at WBUR at this time.
Several station employees asked if Kravetz is being forced out because of the union vote. Nicksa said no. Union organizers said they were surprised by Kravetz’s departure.
“I think we could have worked really well with Charlie,” said WBUR digital producer Ally Jarmanning. “I don’t think the union is the reason for him leaving.”
After leadership roles at WCVB-TV and NECN-TV, Kravetz, 66, joined WBUR as general manager in 2010. During his tenure — a period marked by upheaval in media — the station expanded its budget, programming, physical space and staff. The station’s operating revenue increased 91 percent to $39.5 million over his eight-year tenure, according to BU, and WBUR added 61 staffers over that period. The station’s footprint more than doubled in size with an expansion that included a new studio.
Kravetz’s tenure coincided with the explosion in podcasting, and WBUR moved into the platform, establishing partnerships with the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and Reddit. In the newsroom, growth included special units dedicated to arts, education, business, the environment and investigations.
Kravetz partnered with NPR to extend the locally produced show Here & Now, and make it NPR’s midday news program. He started a diversity initiative that is changing the look and sound of the station. And, just last month, Kravetz hosted events to celebrate the public opening of CitySpace, the community venue on Commonwealth Avenue, in the same building as WBUR.
That grand opening took place one day after Kravetz received what some colleagues considered a leadership blow. Radio and digital producers, reporters, editors and hosts voted 73 to 3 in favor of forming a union. Many union supporters say they are frustrated by the slow pace of change and lack of accountability among top managers after more than a year of turmoil. It began in December 2017 when Kravetz and BU leaders placed On Point host Tom Ashbrook on leave.
An investigation into Ashbrook’s conduct and the station’s response found that WBUR management knew about Ashbrook’s abusive behavior and tried to address it with him but were not successful. The investigation led to Ashbrook’s dismissal. BU then hired consultants to assess broader workplace problems at WBUR.
In September 2018, the consultants produced a plan for “substantive action to improve the station’s climate.” Kravetz was on a list of five areas the station needed to focus on. The report identified problems with communication, accountability and an awareness of his impact on the station’s culture.
It was three months before a station committee met to begin work on the proposed action plan. A consultant to oversee the process has not been hired nor has an HR person, although a member of BU’s HR staff now holds office hours at the station a few hours a week.
Some staff members say Kravetz should have been dismissed last year for failing to curb Ashbrook’s behavior, or after the report that found need for significant changes at WBUR. Others call Kravetz a visionary. On Point co-host Meghna Chakrabarti, who replaced Ashbrook, calls Kravetz a mentor. She says Kravetz is a key reason WBUR is not struggling while many other media outlets are.
“We’re bucking the trend,” Chakrabarti said. “This is a great place to work. We’ve had our ups and downs for sure, but it’s a healthy journalistic organization and I would credit Charlie Kravetz for leading the way on that.”
Paul Gannon, who chairs WBUR’s Board of Overseers, said he can’t overstate how much WBUR and its constituents have gained from Kravetz’s leadership.
“By all WBUR metrics ... ratings, financial health, the development of new programming and podcasts, fundraising, stature in the NPR spectrum … he and his senior management team have accomplished so much for the benefit of a very broad audience, both local and national,” Gannon said in a statement.
Outgoing NPR CEO Jarl Mohn also offered praise.
“Under Charlie Kravetz’s leadership WBUR became one of public radio’s powerhouse stations, reaching millions of Americans with shows like ‘Here & Now’ and ‘On Point,’ ” Mohn said in a statement. “Charlie has made great contributions to the public radio industry and to NPR; I am grateful for all his work.”
Mohn and Kravetz are two of at least four major public radio executives leaving or who have left in the last year following newsroom turmoil. The others are WNYC and KUT in Austin.
Kravetz leaves less than two months after the public launch of WBUR’s first capital campaign. In announcing the campaign, the station said it had already raised $28 million of the $40 million goal, half of which is designated for one of Kravetz’s signature projects, CitySpace.
A new general manager will likely have to reassure funders, especially now that both Kravetz and his longtime friend and colleague Paul La Camera are leaving. La Camera preceded Kravetz as GM and has continued to advise the station.
“I’m leaving the station as well, it’s just too sad and too uncomfortable for me to remain here,” La Camera said Monday.
Three years ago, La Camera and Kravetz persuaded Bob Hildreth, a member of the station’s Board of Overseers, to become the principal funder for Edify, WBUR’s education unit. But Hildreth says his commitment to funding has nothing to do with Kravetz.
“NPR and WBUR [keep] me sane at this time of insanity,” Hildreth said, adding that he wishes Kravetz well.
There are some other immediate challenges: hiring new hosts for Radio Boston and Only A Game, as well as a third host for Here & Now, and completing an organization chart that Kravetz had said was almost done. A pay equity review is almost complete. Union contract negotiations will be underway soon.
Fleming, who will run the station for the time being, said it’s clear the station can’t stand still.
“Things are happening too fast in the media world, we can’t stand still,” Fleming said. “My main worry is about the larger media landscape — Google, Facebook, all the people that want to eat our lunch.”
Editor’s note: WBUR’s Martha Bebinger reported this story, and WBUR’s Benjamin Swasey and Dan Mauzy are the story editors. Under standard practices for reporting on WBUR, no other BU or WBUR staff were allowed to review the story before publication.
This article was originally published on March 11, 2019.
This segment aired on March 11, 2019.