The Potluck

American Public Media cancels award-winning ‘In the Dark’ podcast

By: - July 6, 2022 12:56 pm

Photo courtesy of Minnesota Public Radio.

After six years, American Public Media is canceling its flagship investigative podcast “In the Dark” as part of a larger shake-up at the company.

In an email to staff on Wednesday, CEO Jean Taylor said the company was eliminating eight positions, “guided by the understanding that we have finite resources and talent which should be focused where we can have the greatest impact.”

American Public Media, the parent company of Minnesota Public Radio, boasts being one of the largest producers and distributors of public radio programming in the country, with a portfolio including “Marketplace,” Southern California Public Radio and nationally syndicated classical music content.

Taylor first told staff in late May that the company would eliminate APM Reports and two people were immediately laid off including APM Reports managing director Chris Worthington. But the company didn’t provide any details about who else would be laid off for more than five weeks, leading the union representing the employees to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

In the Dark,” hosted by Madeleine Baran, won prestigious Peabody awards for both of its seasons, along with a slew of other national accolades. Its first season investigated the 1989 murder of Jacob Wetterling in central Minnesota.

The second season focused on the case of Curtis Flowers, who was tried six times for the killing of four people at a furniture store in rural Mississippi. Their reporting helped exonerate Flowers and free him from prison after more than 20 years by uncovering new evidence that the prosecution had been deliberately excluding Black people from juries. The evidence was cited in arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, which reversed Flowers’ conviction.

Until Wednesday, the five-person “In the Dark” team was working on a third season on an unannounced topic. In her email to staff, Taylor said they would begin looking to “find a new home” for the podcast outside the company or for new positions for the staff within the company.

American Public Media will also cancel its initiative on water issues, The Water Main, and eliminate a reporting position on its mental health initiative, Call to Mind.

That initiative will continue, according to Taylor’s letter, but will operate “differently” once the company has fulfilled its current grant obligations. Call to Mind’s content manager, Sam Choo, was laid off in May.

A spokeswoman for APM said the company plans to “fully honor” its obligations to discuss the layoffs with the employees’ union, SAG-AFTRA. A call to a union representative was not returned.

The company’s largely grant-funded education initiative was spared as was the company’s grant-funded investigative unit, both of which will be housed within Minnesota Public Radio.

While eight positions will be eliminated at APM Reports, the company plans to add 12 roles within MPR, including seven jobs within MPR News, according to Taylor’s email.

Employees who are laid off are “encouraged” to apply to those open positions, according to the APM spokeswoman.

“By investing in MPR, we will be able to improve and increase our reporting — to authentically and equitably reflect Minnesota, including both the Twin Cities metro area and Greater Minnesota — in a fast-paced, changing news landscape,” Taylor said.

MPR and its parent company APM have in recent years faced an exodus of staff, who complain of mismanagement and lavish executive pay.

Taylor took the helm of APM in 2021 after having served on the nonprofit’s board of trustees. She is the daughter of billionaire businessman Glen Taylor, who owns the Star Tribune and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

(Disclosure: I worked for MPR News from 2016-2019.)

*This story has been updated with comment from American Public Media.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.