The future of the American Public Media Group unit focused on investigative journalism is in limbo after APMG CEO Jean Taylor announced last week that APM Reports has been targeted for an unspecified reorganization.
Taylor told staff in an email that APMG plans to disband the unit and move pieces of it under the umbrella of Minnesota Public Radio’s MPR News.
“Over the next several weeks, we plan to dissolve APM Reports as a separate business unit and incorporate select programming elements, including our focus on investigative journalism, into MPR News,” Taylor wrote in the email, which was shared with Current. “Unfortunately, this change means that some colleagues, who’ve invested their energy, skills and passion with us, will be leaving our organization.”
Taylor wrote that the decision has been “finalized and we are exercising a great deal of care in working out the details.”
Among the brands housed within APM Reports is the popular podcast In the Dark, which in its second season led to the release of Curtis Flowers, who was tried six times by the same prosecutor in a quadruple murder case and served 22 years on death row. The podcast received two Peabody Awards and garnered millions of downloads.
APM Reports has also partnered with public radio stations on investigative reports.
In a follow-up email to staff on Friday, Duchesne Drew, president of MPR, clarified that no decisions have been made about the future of In the Dark. “You may have read that we are no longer supporting In the Dark, in external media,” he wrote. “We are currently entering a process about what decisions and possible changes will occur with the APM Reports portfolio. No decisions have been made at this time.”
The APM Reports website lists 18 staff. That includes Chris Worthington, managing editor and editor-in-chief of APM Reports, who “is no longer with American Public Media,” according to an automatic reply to his work email address.
“Most of us don’t yet know what this means about our jobs, our current projects, or our work going forward,” Emily Hanford, a senior producer and correspondent for APM Reports, said on Twitter.
An APMG spokesperson declined an interview request with management and did not respond to questions about layoffs. The spokesperson shared an MPR statement echoing some of Taylor’s memo to staff.
The move follows a reorganization earlier this year that eliminated the division between APM and MPR. Dave Kansas, then president of APMG’s American Public Media, left as part of that change.
Taylor’s email did not explain why her leadership team decided to dissolve APM Reports. She cited APMG’s commitment “to provide high-quality journalism, programming, and experiences for our many audiences and communities,” advancement of strategic priorities and “our responsibility as financial stewards of APMG’s resources,” she said.
“I decided to be open … and let you all know as soon as the decision had been made, knowing that it may be frustrating not to have complete understanding,” Taylor added.
Beyond the success of In the Dark, APM Reports received numerous other awards for its reporting and collaborated with outlets across the country on reporting projects. In March it released the investigative podcast Sent Away in partnership with KUER in Salt Lake City and the Salt Lake Tribune.
CPB provided a $1.5 million grant in 2017 to support the unit’s Public Media Accountability Initiative, an effort to assist stations with investigative reporting. APM Reports went on to produce dozens of stories in partnership with public radio stations.
Maria O’Mara, executive director of KUER, told Current that she hasn’t “heard anything yet about the future of the initiative.” Beyond Sent Away, which has since been completed, KUER didn’t have any active or planned projects with APM Reports before Taylor’s announcement.
KUER’s collaboration with the unit “was so much more beneficial to the audience than we could have ever achieved independently,” she said. “… APM Reports was a real catalyst for that kind of cooperative work.”
“It’s not just the seed money, it’s the visibility,” she said of KUER’s collaboration with APM Reports. “It’s the expertise that they brought, the experience of having done reporting on this subject in other places, it just gives you a bigger view. That was really, really valuable,” she said.
On Twitter, APMG’s decision was met with surprise, disappointment and criticism by media professionals at other news organizations.
It’s incredible how a public media company has such a bunker mentality about communicating it’s vision to the public which supports it.