Proposed changes at Miami’s WLRN seen as threat to newsroom independence

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The independence of journalists at WLRN in Miami appears to be threatened as the Miami-Dade school board, which holds the station’s license, looks to move WLRN reporters and editors under its supervision.

The Miami Herald reported Sunday that under a proposal by the school board, 19 newsroom staffers would switch from being employees of an independent nonprofit, South Florida Public Media, to employment by the school district. The staffers affected would also need to reapply for their jobs under the change. Some non-news employees at the station already work for the school district.

“How would these journalists be able to do their job independently if they’re reporting directly to the school district administration?” said Dwight Hill, chairman of the Friend’s group. Hill also cited concerns about losing donors and grants, and WLRN’s reporting partnership with the Herald could also be in jeopardy, according to the article.

School district spokesperson Daisy Gonzales-Diego told the Herald that the new management structure would not affect the station’s programming. Gonzales-Diego cited student safety as one reason for the restructuring — background checks for WLRN news employees are less strict than those given to school district employees, and students enroll in internships at the station. 

Kelly McBride, an ethicist with the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., told the Herald that citing intern safety was a “fairly specious argument.”

In a memo to the Friends group obtained by the Herald, Gonzalez-Diego also said that the school board never approved the creation of South Florida Public Media and cited concerns over the finances of the Friends group, including recent “irregularities in the group’s financial statements,” the article said.

In an editorial in the Herald Monday, Gonzales-Diego wrote that “misrepresentation of financial contributions in a federal audit” resulted in the resignation of the Friends group’s CFO and led to fines levied against the district by CPB. A spokesperson for CPB said it has not yet imposed any penalties. 

Michael Oreskes, NPR’s SVP for news, told the paper, “I would hope the trustees of the school system would recognize their own very good statement [in board policy] that the credibility of the programming rests on the public’s trust and it’s important for the public to believe the journalism and other programming is independent.”

The station was given until March 2 to return the agreement, though that deadline may be flexible.

Correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly said that all of WLRN’s non-news employees are school district employees. Only some are school district employees.

  • We need more classical music on public media!!!

  • George Calvert

    Many public media outlets are affiliated with governments and universities. You can point to firewall policies all you want but do these policies really work? Will reporters take their employers to task? I don’t think so because in the back of a reporter’s mind is the thought ‘will this get me fired?’