Feb 23, 2024 - Business

Exclusive: WAMU lays off 15 staffers, shuts down DCist

Animated gif of a microphone with the volume being turned up

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Washington's NPR affiliate, WAMU, plans to shut down local news site DCist and lay off 15 staffers as part of a strategic shift focused on audio.

The big picture: The shift away from digital publishing will allow WAMU to focus on its core radio products, as well as new digital audio opportunities like podcasts and live events, WAMU general manager Erika Pulley-Hayes told Axios.

  • "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 said.

Details: Fifteen positions will be eliminated as part of the changes, but new positions — mostly audio specialists and producers — will be added.

  • "We feel like this is the best way for us to engage and build loyalty," said Michael Tribble, WAMU's newly hired chief content officer.
  • WAMU is planning to launch a new local radio show and hopes to build an app.

Between the lines: Research commissioned by the station's leadership suggested the WAMU brand was stickier than DCist's, both executives explained.

  • "Too many media companies fail by trying to be all things to all people, leaving their value proposition diluted and weakened," said Peter Cherukuri, vice chair of WAMU's board of advisers.

Zoom in: Part of the changes also include elevating WAMU's biggest voices, including Kojo Nnamdi, who hosts his own show in addition to "The Politics Hour," a weekly political talk show.

  • WAMU plans to expand its politics unit across DC, Maryland and Virginia to tap into the success of that program.
  • It also plans to invest more in arts and culture reporting.

Where it stands: Some of Washington's most prominent newsrooms have fallen victim to layoffs in the past year amid a broader ad market slump.

  • The Wall Street Journal laid off staffers as a part of a broader restructuring of its Washington bureau this week, Axios reported.
  • The Washington Post laid off 20 staffers last year and eliminated hundreds of other roles through voluntary buyouts.
  • WTOP also offered longtime staffers buyouts in an effort to reduce costs last year.

Editor's note: This piece was updated to remove a specific number for new expected positions, after the company changed its statement to Axios.

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