WNYC Names Audrey Cooper Editor in Chief
Cooper to Lead All Local WNYC News Efforts
Read more in these notes from WNYC Chief Content Officer Andrew Golis and Audrey Cooper:
Internal note from Andrew Golis, Chief Content Officer:
After a long and thoughtful search, I’m thrilled to announce that Audrey Cooper will be joining us as WNYC’s editor in chief.
In this role, Audrey will oversee our local news operations: the WNYC newsroom (radio and Gothamist) and our local talk shows, The Brian Lehrer Show and All of It. News Director Sean Bowditch, Gothamist Executive Editor Jen Chung, and Head of Live Radio Megan Ryan will report to her. Audrey will start on July 20th.
Audrey will join us from The San Francisco Chronicle, where she’s been editor in chief since 2015. That role made her the youngest woman to ever run a major American newspaper and the first woman to run the Chronicle. There, she’s guided a 200-person newsroom through dramatic growth in its ambition and audience, all while sharply increasing the diversity of its staff. As CJR wrote a few years ago, under Audrey’s leadership there’s been “a near consensus, inside and outside the Chronicle, that the paper is doing its best work in years, perhaps ever.”
We know this news comes while our community is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis: a pandemic, an economic collapse, and an uprising confronting our local and national histories of racism and police violence. Our work has never been harder to do, or more urgently needed.
Even before the devastating events of the last few months, we knew we needed a leader with a rare combination of skills and strengths—someone who understands the unique role public media plays on the media landscape, and who has the tenacity and commitment to address some of our most urgent internal needs head-on. And in conversations we hosted with all of you about who the organization needed in this role, we heard what we need. A visionary leader who can articulate WNYC’s growing role in this community as an essential local news service. A communicative and collaborative manager with experience bringing their team and community along to develop and achieve a collective vision. A great journalist with the judgment to make the right decisions, both about overall editorial priorities and individual stories. And most critically, a change agent with a track record of modernizing a newsroom’s staff to make it more representative of the community it serves and make it work in new ways to serve that community.
We have found such a leader in Audrey.
Audrey transformed The Chronicle’s newsroom from one dominated by white men to one led by and predominantly made up of women, people of color, and/or people who identify as LGBTQ+. She recruited new talent aggressively, filled leadership positions with editors and journalists from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in the Chronicle’s newsroom, and championed departments like the paper’s photo department that’s been celebrated for its industry-leading diversity.
She’s led her team through breaking news crises, from the current pandemic to California’s wildfires. She pulled dozens of local news organizations into a massive annual collaboration focusing on homelessness, and spearheaded a series called “Vanishing Violence” that exposed the stark racial inequities in California’s juvenile justice system that led to calls for the shutdown of juvenile detention facilities statewide.
She’s also overseen dramatic digital audience growth at The Chronicle, helped advance a Bay Area conversation about the harmful role tech companies can have on journalism, and hosts weekly tours of the newsroom for subscribers (which she’s kept up virtually during the pandemic). She even hosts the paper’s flagship podcast!
Finally, Audrey has earned a reputation as a communicative, hyper-engaged, and doggedly hard-working leader. As we’ve talked to people who have worked with her we’ve heard over and over about her personal relationships with everyone in the newsroom, her high standards and direct feedback, and her fierce loyalty to her reporters.
We can’t wait to have Audrey’s unique combination of skills and experiences put in support of the extraordinary work our local news teams are already doing.
We want to thank Sean Bowditch and Jen Chung for their exemplary leadership of the newsroom during this transition. They’ve led the efforts to keep our community informed and their teams safe during this historic past few months. We’ve seen powerful reporting from across the newsroom, record audience numbers, and big steps forward in collaboration between the radio and Gothamist teams that will serve us for years to come. Thank you to you both for your collaborative leadership. And thank you to Megan Ryan who continues to make our live talk shows such critical services for New York.
Audrey will tell you more about herself and why she’s been drawn to WNYC once she arrives. We hope you’ll join us in welcoming her, and we can’t wait until we’re able to toast her in person at 160 Varick.
Andrew and Goli
Internal note from Audrey Cooper:
Dear WNYC colleagues,
I decided to become a journalist the night I walked into the newsroom of my college town’s public radio station.
I wasn’t there because I had the foresight to get an internship. Instead, I figured I could get inside by volunteering to answer pledge drive calls. As a freshman, I was too poor to afford much of anything, including cable, and so I had become a public radio devotee. I would refuse to go out for the night before listening to the entire evening lineup (plus Car Talk on Fridays).
The newsroom was empty that evening, but I was still giddy: This was the workplace of the people who had made me sad, gleeful, angry, smarter and, most importantly, empathetic. I wanted to be a part of it. I changed my major the next morning.
Public radio introduced me to the awesome power of fact-based storytelling to confront wrongdoing, to help us understand each other, and to produce enlightened citizens. That’s something this country needs more than ever.
New York is suffering from systemic racism that’s older than the republic and a fearsome virus that has existed for only a few months. Because of this confluence, not all institutions that entered 2020 will survive it. That likely includes news outlets that dominated the past. They will continue to shrink just as the need for our journalism — and the threats against it — grows even more acute.
But America’s greatest city deserves America’s greatest local news coverage, and WNYC will emerge from this more relevant than media has ever been. New York deserves a newsroom that can educate and connect us as you did with “America, Are We Ready?” It needs a newsroom whose integrity is unimpeachable and whose journalists reflect the exciting diversity of our communities. It needs an outlet with the multiplatform scale to change minds and policies. It needs a place to engage with the arts and culture that brings us beauty even now. And it needs a newsroom that can inspire civic discourse before the lack of it tears us apart.
Getting a new boss is nerve wracking in the best of times. You’re great journalists, so you’ve already googled me and probably interviewed some of our mutual friends. They’ll probably tell you that I have very high standards. I believe in saying yes to great ideas and I am fiercely loyal.
I am transparent and honest with people I work with — probably to a fault. You will always know where we are going and how you can help us get there. So it seems fair to tell you that I am aware that I am joining at a time when WNYC does not have enough black and brown people in the newsroom. Changing this is my first priority. I will put people of color in positions to decide what we cover, and I will make sure more people of color are telling those stories. This work needs to happen as quickly as possible — a diverse newsroom is a journalistic and moral necessity. This is not unfamiliar territory: I inherited a newsroom in San Francisco with an acute diversity problem, and addressing these imbalances required institutional changes to hiring practices, training opportunities for people who wanted to move into management roles, and a focus on recruiting. Over the last two years, I have hired 46 people and 41 of them were people of color, women and/or LGBTQ-identifying journalists. Our coverage benefitted, and our city benefitted. And I will bring a similar sense of urgency and action to this work at WNYC.
I also abhor shortcuts, so I’ve spent the last few weeks reading the books you’ve written, listening to your work and reading your stories. Each time I read something as thorough as your live protest coverage or hear something as shocking as the investigation into the Mount Vernon police tapes or I listen to a deep conversation on Come Through, I think moving day can’t come quickly enough. I’m looking forward to being at work before dawn with the Morning Edition team and until the last online story is posted on Gothamist.
It is unusual to join a team that is physically apart, but I’ve admired from afar how you’ve managed to produce some of the best coverage of our ongoing crises, particularly while coping with the tragic loss of Richard Hake. You all have my deepest sympathies.
I want to help you build on what you have created and make WNYC into a news source that not only does important work but one that is essential to its community — one that can grow its audience and, by doing so, change the world.
I look forward to meeting you all very soon.