WAMU lays off staff, shuts down DCist

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WAMU building

Sasha Fernandez/Current

WAMU's building in Washington, D.C.

WAMU in Washington, D.C., has shut down its digital news site DCist and is laying off 15 staffers, the station’s union said Friday. 

“These individuals are the lifeblood of our journalism,” the union posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, Friday morning. “Our hearts are broken. We can’t believe we are losing our colleagues and friends.”

The staffers who have announced their departures are:

The union announced on X Tuesday that Executive Editor Teresa Frontado was also laid off.

Eric Falquero, strategic partnerships editor, said “layoffs finally caught up with me.”

Shutting down DCist will allow the station to focus on its radio products, GM Erika Pulley-Hayes told Axios, which first reported on the changes. WAMU will add positions, including audio specialists and producers, according to Axios. (Axios initially reported the station would add 10 positions but removed that from its article “after the company changed its statement,” according to a correction on the story.)

“We’re making the choice to invest in what we’re better at than anyone else in this town, and that’s audio,” Pulley-Hayes told the site. 

A WAMU staffer who requested anonymity because of fear of retaliation told Current that the layoffs caught staff off guard. Employees only learned about the number of their colleagues laid off from the Axios article, the staffer said. 

“We didn’t know it was coming,” they said. “We learned about it after Axios.”

In a press release Friday, the station said that its new strategy is “centered around audio and live experiences.” A “cornerstone” of the strategy will be a new show “for, by, and about Washingtonians” and “designed to reflect and represent what makes the DMV area unique.”

The release did not mention the layoffs.

DCist.com now redirects to WAMU.org, and its articles are inaccessible. A pop-up on DCist.com says “As of February 23, the site will no longer publish new content.”

“An archive of the website is being made available to staff to support their professional pursuits,” WAMU said in its release.

It’s unclear how many of the articles on DCist.com were not cross-posted to WAMU’s site. Many recent articles on a version of DCist archived early Friday morning are not on the homepage of WAMU’s website and do not appear in search results.

The employee said that for nearly a year, staff had been promised “a content strategy to revive WAMU/DCist.”

“Despite our best efforts as staff members to get more information about the strategy, survey and consulting data, staff was largely shut out of that process,” they said. “So we knew a content strategy was coming. And we’ve been wanting to work with leadership.”

The employee pointed out that journalists who were laid off produced both digital and audio content. “To pivot to audio excellence … how can you do that when some of our most talented audio reporters were laid off?” the employee said. 

With the loss of DCist’s public archives, “we’re losing a slice of history,” they added. “… We’re losing a slice of local life with the shutdown of DCist.com.”

In a Thursday letter to staff shared with Current, Pulley-Hayes wrote that employees would learn of a “new strategic framework” in a Zoom call at 9 a.m. Friday.

“To provide the time and space to have these conversations, our office will be closed tomorrow,” she wrote. “… As of now, our social and digital platforms will not publish and WAMU has taken the steps necessary to temporarily automate at 8 p.m. tonight. Access to some of our system has been temporarily frozen for all staff.”

“A curt email on Thursday followed by a short Friday morning announcement undid years of work,” the union wrote. “That’s thousands of daily stories, countless hours of work, and many, many community voices… all gone.”

WAMU acquired DCist in 2018 as a part of a cohort of stations that purchased digital news websites, including LAist and New York’s Gothamist. 

Current has asked WAMU for additional details about the changes.

WAMU is owned by American University. Current is an editorially independent service of the American University School of Communication.

This article has been updated with WAMU’s press release, the names of additional staffers who announced that they had been laid off and additional information from a WAMU staffer. 

One thought on “WAMU lays off staff, shuts down DCist

  1. I’m surprised that to date, absolutely no one has commented on this WAMU story. Very surprised. Let me express sadness for those who lost their jobs, and hope for their professional future. In addition, I hope that the organization is able to stabilize, and get on a sound financial footing in order to deliver top notch public service to the region. I believe it’s important for what amounts to a “flagship” public radio station to be healthy.

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