The interim GM of KUT in Austin, Texas, resigned Monday following a conflict with staff journalists over coverage of the station’s own internal challenges.
Patti Smith will step down Oct. 8, according to an email she sent to staff Monday afternoon. She joined KUT in May after longtime GM Stewart Vanderwilt announced he was leaving to become president of Colorado Public Radio.
Sylvia Ponce-Carson, associate GM for development and marketing for KUT and KUTX, will replace Smith until a new permanent GM is named later this year, according to a Monday press release.
“When I agreed to become interim GM after Stewart departed, I did so with a deep appreciation for the stations and their mission, and a desire to do everything I could to support your important work,” Smith wrote in the email obtained by Current. “As I leave my role, I do so knowing that I’ve tried my very best to help the stations succeed despite many long-time challenges that remain to be addressed.”
Smith, a former president of Austin’s ABC affiliate, was planning to relocate and took the job only on an interim basis, according to a KUT spokesperson.
Smith had clashed with the newsroom over her decision to end a freelance reporter’s coverage of the station’s internal issues for KUT’s website. KUT’s daily newsmagazine, Texas Standard, has struggled with a “dysfunctional” culture that took root under a previous leader and permeated the newsroom, according to a consultant’s report. Journalists say they’re also concerned about retention of employees, diversity in hiring and opportunities to advance within the organization.
Reporters objected to Smith’s intervention in the freelancer’s coverage, though a KUT spokesperson said Smith only wanted to ensure that the coverage would be “sufficiently independent.” KUT news leaders appealed to the dean of the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin, the station’s licensee.
At a staff meeting Sept. 13, Smith urged staff to “move on” and follow protocols for addressing complaints about workplace issues. Some staff members said they felt Smith did not adequately acknowledge management’s role in causing the issues.
“I wish everyone the strength and commitment to work together to overcome the burdens that hold you back, so that KUT and KUTX can reach their full potential of service for all residents of Central Texas,” Smith wrote in her email.
Ponce-Carson, who joined KUT in 2001, oversees fundraising. She has also managed the business and finance division of KUT and KUTX since Vanderwilt’s departure, according to KUT.
“I am committed to working with the dean to identify and address our issues with culture and operations,” Ponce-Carson said in a statement. “KUT and KUTX are an invaluable part of the Central Texas community and I am honored to advance this important public service until a permanent general manager is appointed.”
This article has been updated with the news of Ponce-Carson’s appointment.