Margaret Low Smith leaves NPR for The Atlantic

NPR senior vice president for news Margaret Low Smith will join the Atlantic as a vice president and the president of the Atlantic’s events division, according to a press release Tuesday. Her departure “will be a hard parting,” NPR chief content officer Kinsey Wilson told staffers in a note (below).

Smith joined NPR in 1982. She’s been in charge of news since 2011. She got that job officially the next year. In 2012, Smith talked with Poynter about NPR’s Ethics Handbook, which emerged after a turbulent period at the radio network.

Chris Turpin will be acting head of news, Wilson tells staffers. The organization “will announce plans for a permanent search as soon they are finalized,” NPR spokesperson Isabel Lara tells Poynter in an email.

At the Atlantic, Smith will replace Elizabeth Baker Keffer, who founded AtlanticLIVE. Baker Keffer left the company early this year to join an investment firm in Chicago. Among the events AtlanticLive produces is the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Naming Smith’s replacement will be among new NPR chair Jarl Mohn’s “major tasks,” NPR media reporter David Folkenflik writes on Twitter. Wilson “will likely play a lead role in choice,” Folkenflik says.

Here’s Wilson’s note to NPR staffers Monday:

Dear all,

I’m writing to share the news that Margaret Low Smith is leaving NPR at the end of the month to take a position as President of The Atlantic’s live events business.

Her departure will be felt as profoundly as any in recent memory.

Margaret has devoted nearly her entire professional career to NPR and in that time has become its most determined and eloquent champion. She is the best partner I’ve had in nearly 20 years of news leadership.

And for many, she is the soul of the organization – in her compassion, her generosity, her optimism; equally in her intelligence, drive and ambition for NPR. She is our head and heart.

And so this will be a hard parting.

Margaret will tell you this was not an opportunity she sought. But she will also tell you she had hopes of someday going out on her own terms and of writing another chapter in her career. When Atlantic came courting, she found the opportunity irresistible.

As President of AtlanticLIVE she will be part of the leadership team charged with taking Atlantic’s already prodigious events business to the next level –a job that draws equally on her experience in journalism, programming and executive leadership.

Chris Turpin, who has been filling in for Ellen McDonnell while she was on leave, will become acting head of news upon Margaret’s departure. (Ellen returned yesterday). As executive producer of All Things Considered, and more recently as acting head of programming, Chris has shown the programming skill, news judgment, strategic outlook and leadership talent required to keep the organization on a steady course.

Margaret began her career at NPR in 1982 as an overnight production assistant on Morning Edition, eventually rising to become head of programming and, in January of 2011, stepping in to lead the news division at a challenging moment in our history.

Her life at NPR included a decade on All Things Considered producing stories on everything from the plight of chicken catchers on the eastern shore of Maryland to documenting the lives of the mentally ill homeless on the streets of New York. As head of programming she led the transformation of Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! into a wildly successful live show.

She leaves the news division in a strong position, having undertaken a long list of ambitious initiatives that will be felt for years to come: crafting new ethical guidelines, professionalizing safety and security procedures for our overseas correspondents, naming new hosts, reorganizing her senior leadership team, moving WATC to the West Coast, overseeing the launch of new desks and foreign bureaus, undertaking an overhaul of the Morning Edition and All Things Considered clocks, launching an effort to reshape our newsgathering relationship with member stations, forging a first-of-its-kind partnership with WBUR and Here & Now, better integrating digital into our news operations, making tough but necessary budget cuts… The list goes on.

With those efforts, the news division is as strong as it has ever been – a beacon at a moment of turbulence in the news business.

Margaret will be here for the next three weeks, through August 1. And we will of course celebrate her properly as she heads for the door. More on that in the days ahead.

Chris will remain in his current position for the next week, before heading out on vacation. And we will detail staffing changes on ATC shortly.

All three of us will be available in the news conference room (3 North) at 10:30 to answer any questions. Dial-up information will be sent separately.

In the meantime, please join me in congratulating Margaret and Chris on the next chapters in their careers.

Kinsey

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