The people who make shows for NPR stations, dinged by the perception that they're a bunch of kneejerk liberals, are proving themselves to be very, very touchy about how their employees participate with Occupy Wall Street. Today, Gawker has posted the first-hand account of Caitlin E. Curran, a Brooklyn-based former freelancer for The Takeaway, which is co-produced by NPR-member station WNYC and Public Radio International, who was fired from her public radio gig as a part-time web producer after her boss discovered she (briefly) participated in an Occupy protest.
Update 2: We've added WNYC's response below, in which the station says Curran was fired because, "When Ms. Curran made the decision to participate in the protest and make herself part of the story, she violated our editorial standards."
Update: We initially used "NPR" in the headline for this story which is incorrect because the show The Takeaway is more identified with NPR competitor PRI even though it airs alongside NPR programming. We've corrected the error, but there's also this point to make: the public radio economy contains many independent actors alongside NPR. There is the national organization, local broadcasters, independent producers and distributors all involved in programming on what listeners would consider "NPR stations." So, while NPR is not a centralized organization that controls all of public radio, the "NPR is liberal" critics are prone to paint with a broad brush. If anything, Curran's story illustrate how far the fear of looking too liberal has permeated the entire public radio ecosystem.
Curran was canned after her boss found the now-famous photo of her (right) holding a sign with paraphrased text from The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf, from his post on the Occupy movement. She chronicles what happened after that in her post:
My boyfriend, Will, and I decided to take Friedersdorf's words and use them, perhaps more literally than he intended. We printed them out, taped them to poster board, and headed to the Occupy Wall Street march in Times Square, on October 15. The plan was for Will to hold the sign, and for me to observe what happened and post reports to my personal Twitter account ... But, inevitably, Will developed sign-holding fatigue, and I took over momentarily.
That's when a photographer snapped the Occupy picture reblogged 'round the world. So she decided that all of this notoriety would make for great radio, so he pitched a segment idea on her experience on The Takeaway. But a day later, she got the boot from The Takeaway, which said she "violated every ethic of journalism," according to Curran. All this of course echoes the firing of Lisa Simeone after she was found to be working as a spokesperson for Occupy D.C. Curran, like Simeone, offered a defense of her actions on Gawker:
My thinking ran along the same lines as Simeone's. It's unclear to me how our participation, on our personal time, in a non-partisan movement warrants termination from our jobs. If the protest is so lacking, in terms of message and focus, then how can my involvement with it go against The Takeaway's ethical policies? In other words, if I'm associated with a party-less movement (and barely associated, since that was only the second time I've attended an Occupy Wall Street event), and have never exercised bias in editing The Takeaway's website, what's the harm?
Here is the full statement from WNYC spokesperson Jennifer Houlihan:
Caitlin Curran was a freelance news producer for The Takeaway, a morning news program co-produced by WNYC and Public Radio International (PRI). In that capacity she was expected to observe the general standards of journalistic practice and more specifically WNYC's editorial guidelines which require that editorial employees be free of any conflict that might compromise the work of the show overall. The Takeaway has covered the Occupy Wall Street story since its beginning through active reporting on the protests and the positive and negative responses to those events. When Ms. Curran made the decision to participate in the protest and make herself part of the story, she violated our editorial standards. At that time the program made the decision to no longer use her services as part of the production team.