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Poynter Institute dean Keith Woods to become VP of diversity issues for National Public Radio



Keithwoods-npr National Public Radio has hired one of the country's best experts in journalism and diversity issues to help develop its future strategies, tapping Poynter Institute dean Keith Woods to serve as the vice president of diversity in news and operations at National Public Radio in Washington D.C.

Woods starts Feb. 1 in the job, a newly-created senior management position aimed at developing diversity initiatives at NPR and the hundreds of public radio stations which air their programming.

He has worked since 1995 at the Poynter Institute, which owns the St. Petersburg Times. The publisher of, Stephen Buckley, will fill Woods' job at Poynter for 10 weeks while the school evaluates how to handle the departure.

(His job change won't affect the local TV scene; Woods' wife, longtime WTVT-Ch. 13 anchor Denise White, will remain in Tampa with his family while the new VP commutes between Washington D.C. and Florida)

I've gotten to know Woods while doing my own teaching and learning at Poynter, and there is no better mind at dissecting the various issues which spring up when considering covering race and trying to build a staff which accurately reflects the nation's diversity.

He cited two important issues: ensuring that everyone in the organization means the same thing when they talk about improving diversity and making sure that those who have built NPR into a leading news organization don't see an incisive look at diversity issues as an insult to their achievements.

“I’ve watched the developments around diversity at NPR for my 15 years at Poynter...and I’ve watched NPR continue to try,” he said. “Everything I’ve learned here was preparing me for what I’m about to do. It’s graduating up.”

NPR could use the help; even as its listenership has grown, the organization has faced criticism for a lack of diversity among managers and reporters. In October, the National Association of Black Journalists criticized NPR for firing one of only two black men in its newsroom’s management circle; currently, NPR only has one black male reporter on staff. The same day the manager was fired, the company’s director of diversity management resigned for health reasons.

Npr_newsnotes_300 I have written in the past about NPR's long struggle to develop specialized programming for the consortium of public radio stations aimed at black audiences. This is a continuing problem for NPR, in part because its target audience has long been college-educated white people, and led to problems with past hosts recruited to help reach audiences of color, including Tavis Smiley and Ed Gordon.

Here's my first column on NPR's diversity issues, from back in 2005. In March, cost-cutting at NPR brought the cancellation News and Notes, a show focused on African American issues developed for a consortium of public radio stations focused on black audiences.

Schiller_vivian  Vivian Schiller, president and CEO of NPR, said the organization upgraded its diversity management job into a senior management position so Woods could help make existing, popular shows such as Morning Edition and All Things Considered better reflect the nation’s diversity, rather than creating lower-rated new shows.

“Keith comes at this from the perspective of being a journalist…with sensibilities of a reporter,” said Schiller, who said Woods had been advising NPR on diversity issues as a consultant this fall, sparking the idea to hire him full time. “He’s equipped to work with the journalists as a peer. And he’ll be a resource for the entire public radio system.” 

An award-winning writer, author and nationally recognized expert on diversity issues in media, Woods has served as the number two administrator at the Poynter Institute since 2004; he came to the school after 16 years at the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper.

Woods’ expertise in helping journalists decipher race issues comes from long experience. Back in 1993, as city editor at the Times-Picayune, he helped lead a biracial team of two dozens staffers who crafted an incisive series looking at the city’s racial history dubbed “Together Apart/The Myth of Race.”He has also served as chairman of two Pulitzer Prize juries and co-authored the 2006 book The Authentic Voice: The Best Reporting on Race and Ethnicity.

Read NPR's release on the hiring by clicking below:




December 14, 2009; Washington, D.C. – NPR has appointed Keith Woods, dean of faculty at the Poynter Institute, as its Vice President, Diversity in News and Operations, it was announced today. In this newly created senior management role, Woods will lead the development of NPR’s vision and strategy for diversity, and will play a central role in its implementation across the NPR newsroom, throughout the organization and in the public radio community as a whole. Woods has been consulting with NPR for the past several months, and will join the NPR staff full-time in February 2010.

“Keith’s career has been distinguished by a common thread: to make journalists better reporters and the nation better informed as a result,” said Vivian Schiller, NPR President & CEO. “We are extremely fortunate to have found a leader who offers a combination of strong journalistic credentials, diversity expertise and a passion for teaching. Keith will be a critical resource not only for the NPR newsroom but for our colleagues at NPR stations nationwide.”

“NPR is one of the most credible news sources in the world, and aspires to be an organization that tells the fullest story of the country and world. The work of diversity is about helping the organization do just that,” said Woods. “As journalism struggles, NPR’s voice becomes more important. And, in turn, being that voice for all people in the country takes on even greater significance.”

Woods will report directly to CEO Vivian Schiller, and will work very closely with senior news management, a first for a diversity head at NPR, offering leadership and support to broaden NPR’s coverage and reach a more diverse audience. Woods will also serve as a training and advising resource not only for NPR, but also for NPR member stations across the country on issues of content, recruiting and workplace environment strategies. He will offer coaching and training.

Woods comes to NPR after 15 years at the Poynter Institute – the nation’s leading training center for professional journalists – the last five as its dean of faculty. He has taught writing and reporting on race relations, ethics and diversity at Poynter, and was previously the Institute’s director of diversity. Woods regularly writes on race and media and is the co-author of The Authentic Voice: The Best Reporting on Race and Ethnicity (Columbia University Press, 2006). Woods has consulted with most of the leading U.S. news organizations, and worked with faculty at journalism schools across the country to better incorporate diversity in their teaching. He has also served as chairman of two Pulitzer Prize juries. Before joining Poynter, Woods spent 16 years at The Times-Picayune as a sportswriter, news reporter, city editor, editorial writer and columnist. Woods’ complete bio is available online.

NPR is an award-winning, multimedia news organization and an influential force in American life. In collaboration with more than 880 independent public radio stations nationwide, NPR strives to create a more informed public – one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures.


[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 3:03pm]


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