Marimow steps down as head of news at NPR

October 14, 2006|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,Sun reporter

William K. Marimow, the former editor of The Sun, has resigned as head of news at National Public Radio, a position he had held only since February. The Pulitzer Prize- winning journalist will remain at NPR as its ombudsman, the listeners' representative and resident critic, a role that network officials said yesterday will benefit from his long experience as a journalist.

Although he stepped down as vice president for news on Oct. 5, NPR executives told the staff about the move only yesterday. In a memo, Marimow thanked his colleagues for "educating me" about the world of NPR, whose news division has 350 employees and 36 bureaus worldwide. The network serves about 26 million Americans each week on more than 800 radio stations, most of which carry its flagship news programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as hourly news updates.

"I've learned about the beauty and the impact of the world of sound on the human heart and mind," wrote Marimow, 59, who was on a panel yesterday at Harvard University and could not be reached for further comment.

He is being replaced, at least on an interim basis, by Ellen Weiss, the senior editor of NPR's national desk. A search for a permanent successor is under way.

Jay Kernis, NPR's vice president of programming, said in a telephone interview that Marimow's resignation as vice president for news was voluntary and amicable, and came after months of discussion "about what his approach should be."

"Bill was new to this," Kernis said. "It was a process of orientation. Bill's approach was to build out from the reporter base. He was committed to excellent journalism, but the job also requires attention to other things, to radio programming and the connection of that programming to member stations. His attention was focused on part of the picture, and we needed focus on a bigger picture."

Kernis recalled that Marimow came to him recently and said, "`I don't fit into this job the way you want someone to fit into this job.'"

Started in 2004

Marimow joined NPR in May 2004 as managing editor for news. Four months earlier, he had been dismissed from his editorship of The Sun because of what Denise Palmer, then the publisher, described as personality differences with her.

Before that, Marimow had worked at The Philadelphia Inquirer for 21 years, during which he helped the paper win two Pulitzer Prizes.

"Bill leaves a newsroom that is stronger in its investigations, research and daily reporting," Kernis wrote in a message to the staff. In his own note, Marimow wrote that during his tenure, he and his team had "made some significant progress - creating new beats, adding muscle to existing beats, expanding the news division's contribution to NPR.org and producing a steady stream of solid investigative projects."

`Newspaperman'

Marimow's predecessor as NPR ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin, said yesterday that Marimow "came from The Sun with a wonderful reputation as a solid newspaperman" but was "perceived to have difficulty" in a broadcast environment.

"What he needed to do was develop a set of ears that would allow him to critique stories in a radiophonic way, to parse a story to see why it worked or didn't work as a piece of radio," said Dvorkin, who left the network in July after more than six years as ombudsman, and, prior to that, as vice president for news at NPR.

"I thought he was understanding it quickly and well, but there were others at NPR who felt he hadn't," said Dvorkin, executive director of the Committee of Concerned Journalists. "NPR has its own particular news culture, and sometimes that's hard to change. I think Bill ran into that."

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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