PlanPhilly’s Matt Golas Is Out at WHYY

It's the second high-profile departure at the station in a week.

Matt Golas, founding editor of WHYY’s website PlanPhilly, has resigned from the NPR affiliate. WHYY spokesman Art Ellis said “he did not offer a reason for leaving,” and that his last day has not yet been determined.

“As I move on to my next assignment,” Golas said in an email, “I will be seeking a work atmosphere that appreciates entrepreneurial, nimble and collaborative behavior across the board.”

This is the second time in a week that a top employee at WHYY has announced his departure.

Matt Golas | Photo via PlanPhilly

Matt Golas | Photo via PlanPhilly

Last Thursday, shocked staffers learned that Chris Satullo, WHYY’s vice president of news and civic dialogue, was leaving. At an off-site meeting, Satullo told employees that he could not explain why he was doing so for legal reasons. Ellis told this magazine he could not “get into why he’s leaving,” either. (Full disclosure: I worked for WHYY from 2011 to 2014, and briefly was a freelancer for PlanPhilly.)

Kyra McGrath, WHYY’s chief operating officer, stressed that PlanPhilly’s future is secure at WHYY.

“WHYY is fully committed to the growth of PlanPhilly as part of our family of news gathering and distribution platforms,” she said. “The staff has been doing a terrific job covering planning, design and development issues in our region.”

Ellis added, “When PlanPhilly initially moved to WHYY, some of the employees were still independent contractors. We have recently offered them all full-time positions as a sign of our commitment.” He said all of the reporters have accepted the offer.

Ashley Hahn, who has worked at PlanPhilly since 2011, has been named interim manager of the website.

With Golas at the helm, PlanPhilly has reported on planning, zoning, development and transportation issues in the city since 2007. PlanPhilly and WHYY have been partners since 2010. This February, PlanPhilly announced that it was formally moving into WHYY’s newsroom after calling the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design home for several years.

“Under Golas’ leadership, PlanPhilly has become a must-read,” wrote WHYY’s Amy Quinn in a story about the move. “PlanPhilly and its reporters have won awards and recognition for moving issues forward — most notably, the future vision for a seven-mile stretch of the Delaware River waterfront. City officials credited PlanPhilly’s coverage with touching off an effort to rewrite Philadelphia’s 50-year-old zoning code.”

Satullo and Golas have worked closely together since their days at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Before helping to create PlanPhilly, Golas worked at the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1985 to 2005, including as the metropolitan editor. Satullo was previously a columnist and editorial page editor for the newspaper.

In 2006, Satullo asked Golas to help advise former PennPrexis head Harris Steinberg on the development of PlanPhilly.

“Steinberg knew that the mainstream media would swoop in on occasion but he really wanted all of the process, including an enormous amount of civic engagement, recorded,” Golas wrote in a recent article. “I told him to approach it like a newspaper would manage a ‘beat.’ By the end of the meeting we had agreed that I would do just that.”

Steinberg, who is now executive director of Drexel University’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation, said Thursday that Golas helped make PlanPhilly “the paper of record for development” in the city.

“He brought significant journalistic integrity as well as a sharp editor’s eye to creating this experiment in project-based journalism,” said Steinberg. “I think he was a real pioneer.”

In the wake of Satullo’s announcement, WHYY employees have expressed concern over the future of the station and wondered whether it will be able to fundraise as effectively without him.

Three anonymous staffers told Current, a newspaper covering public media, that they “didn’t know why Satullo left the station or whether it was his decision.” So they’ve been left to speculate. According to the paper, employees said Satullo had disagreed with other executive leaders over newsroom funding. “Satullo often pushed for additional resources for the newsroom,” the Current’s Tyler Falk wrote, “but ran into resistance from management, an employee said.”

Now, employees must be wondering whether Golas’ departure has anything to do with Satullo’s.

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