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Poynter dean headed for NPR as diversity chief

Keith Woods, dean of faculty at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, will be leaving the school for journalists next year to become the vice president of diversity in news and operations at National Public Radio in Washington, D.C.

Woods, 51, 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 that air its programming.

He has worked since 1995 at the Poynter Institute, which owns the St. Petersburg Times. Stephen Buckley, publisher of the newspaper's Web site, tampabay.com, has taken a 10-week leave to fill Woods' position as the school evaluates how best to handle his departure.

Woods said the new job offers a chance to put into practice principles he has advocated throughout his entire career. "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 has a long history of struggling with ethnic diversity issues.

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, the organization 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.

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. And the system has seen a revolving door of black executives and on-air talent come and go, including former hosts Tavis Smiley and Ed Gordon.

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 No. 2 administrator at the Poynter Institute since 2004; he came to the school after 16 years at the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper.

Though his wife Denise White co-anchors the noon and 5 p.m. newscasts for Tampa's Fox affiliate WTVT-Ch. 13, Woods' job change won't yet impact the local TV scene; he plans to commute between his family in Tampa and the job in Washington, at least initially.

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 a 2006 book The Authentic Voice: The Best Reporting on Race and Ethnicity.

Poynter dean headed for NPR as diversity chief 12/14/09 [Last modified: Monday, December 14, 2009 4:04pm]

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