Chris Satullo Out at WHYY

Was credited with building the NPR affiliate's news operations.

Whyy

WHYY’s headquarters on Independence Mall. | Google Streetview

Chris Satullo, WHYY’s vice president of news and civic dialogue since 2008, is leaving the station. His last day of employment will be September 11th, but he’ll no longer be present at WHYY facilities following the close of business Friday.

He did not immediately return an email for comment. Art Ellis, a spokesman for the NPR affiliate, said only: “We can confirm he’s leaving, but I can’t get into why he’s leaving.”

l_satullo-300px-preferredBut his departure apparently came suddenly and with little warning: Satullo had, in recent weeks, been contacting reporters outside the organization to gauge their interest in new products, and reportedly spent this week in a retreat, helping strategize how to take one of WHYY’s local programs to a national audience — indications he planned to stay in his role awhile.

He met with stunned WHYY staffers off-campus, at Franklin Square, early Thursday afternoon.

Satullo told those staffers he was legally required not to comment on the reasons for leaving. “Please trust me when I say I simply cannot answer many of your questions right now,” he said, later adding: “No I do not know what I’m going to do next.”

He was applauded by staffers at the end of a short speech in which he exhorted them to keep doing their best work.

“Chris was a great leader for the WHYY newsroom and the web team,” said a former reporter who asked not to be identified. “He pushed reporters to get the story, he juggled more meetings and commitments than anyone else and yet when he sat down with a reporter to discuss a story, he gave his full attention. He breathed life into that newsroom and his presence will be sorely missed.”

Before coming to WHYY, Satullo was a longtime columnist and editorial page editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He came to the radio station knowing that he wouldn’t have nearly the resources the paper, in those pre-bankruptcy times, had. His strategy: Create partnerships with other news organization to maximize WHYY’s breadth and depth of reporting.

That’s how the station joined forces with The Notebook, the schools-centric reporting outlet, and how PlanPhilly — formerly a project at PennPraxis — came to fall under the WHYY label earlier this year. Other projects, like Keystone Crossroads and StateImpact Pennsylvania, were grant-funded partnerships with other public radio stations across the state. StateImpact in 2013 won a Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award, the broadcasting equivalent of a Pulitzer.

Satullo also did weekly commentaries for the radio and WHYY’s website.

There had been rumors over time that he had struggled with WHYY’s president and CEO, Bill Marrazzo, over the resources allocated to reporting. Ellis on Thursday said there are no plans for cutbacks at the station.

“As an organization, we’ve been comitted to growing our resources, adding reporters,” Ellis said, “and to the extent we can, we’re going to continue to do so.”

The full memorandum describing Satullo’s departure is below:

Good afternoon,

Let me take this opportunity to share with you information about a change in the executive leadership team at WHYY. Specifically, Chris Satullo, our Vice President for News & Civic Dialogue, has decided to move on from WHYY to other activities.

Chris joined WHYY in 2008 following a distinguished career at the Philadelphia Inquirer. During his tenure here, Chris was committed to the development of multiple news strategies that kept members of our audiences engaged in this community…whether on line, over the air or through his unique brand of civic engagement work.

As you all know, under Chris’ leadership we launched and grew our newest digital news offering, NewsWorks, while expanding our core news and information reporting capabilities. Other achievements like Keystone Crossroads, State Impact and Plan Philly, while expanding WHYY’s footprint across the three-state region, also led to the deployment of collaborative journalism business models that are now seen at the fore front of the national news scene.
Chris is a person with a seasoned point of view. So it was no surprise that his weekly Centre Square commentaries not only informed our audiences but encouraged, and even provoked them, into thinking hard about the pressing issues of our community.

And much of this work resulted in WHYY’s receipt of numerous peer recognitions for excellence in journalism. Too numerous to mention here, rightfully Chris is most proud of his leadership over the State Impact work that led to our receipt of the 2013 duPont – Columbia University Award, the broadcast industry equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize and one of the highest forms of recognition found in our industry.

Chris’ expertise in developing civic dialogue experiences has also allowed WHYY to live up to our promise of offering audiences the ability to help shape the priorities of our information services. While he has been unwavering in his commitment to preserve the editorial independence and ethical integrity of our journalistic team, he has taught us how to be open to
input from the very people we are in the business of serving. An exceptional way to further distinguish WHYY’s news & information services!

I congratulate and thank Chris for all of his contributions to WHYY’s audience. I wish Chris only the best as he moves to the next step in his career. And gratefully, Chris has indicated that he will continue to make himself available to WHYY for assistance with special journalism projects. With Chris, I also tip my hat to the many new and veteran newsroom colleagues who have supported the growth of our newsroom’s impact. I know firsthand how grateful Chris is to each and every one of them; I know I am!

Chris’ last day with WHYY will be September 11th. He will be off site starting close of business this Friday. I will shortly name an interim leader of the tri-state news operations to provide on-site leadership of our news operations and at the same time, will initiate a search for a successor for Chris, considering both external and internal candidates.

Please let me know if you have any questions about this change. Also, you may direct any press inquiries to Art Ellis. His office number is (redacted) or his cell is (redacted).

Regards, and if I don’t get the chance to speak to you before, please have a safe and pleasant Labor Day holiday.

Bill

Bill Marrazzo, President and CEO