General manager Charlie Kravetz to leave WBUR
Charlie Kravetz, who over eight years as general manager of WBUR-FM led the station through a period of significant growth and some tumult, is stepping down from his job to “pursue new options,” according to a joint statement released Monday by Kravetz and the station’s parent, Boston University.
The statement said Kravetz’s departure was a mutual decision, though it was announced at a staff meeting without him present. It came shortly after the January opening of the station’s CitySpace community and cultural events venue on Commonwealth Avenue, and the recent decision by newsroom staffers to unionize.
In a statement e-mailed to the Globe, Kravetz said that his “eight years at WBUR [were] the best in my 40-year career. I’m enormously grateful to so many colleagues who have contributed to the growth and transformation of the station.”
“At a time of great challenge for journalism and media,” he wrote, “WBUR has essentially doubled in impact, revenue and service to the community. . . . Now it is time for a change for me and for WBUR. I know the station will thrive because of the exceptional talent there. I will be listening and rooting for WBUR’s continued success.”
Later Monday, former WBUR general manager Paul LaCamera said he was also leaving the station in support of Kravetz, his colleague and friend for 40 years. He said in an e-mail to friends that Kravetz was leaving the station “under unfortunate circumstances.’’ LaCamera said he was an “in-station consultant’’ at WBUR.
Staffers said they were shocked by the development. Kravetz, 66, was known to many for his hands-on management style. He paid attention to the little things, stopping reporters in the hall to ask about their word choice in a broadcast or to make suggestions about the direction of a story. He interviewed prospective employees at all levels. He even helped pick out the crimson-colored chairs at CitySpace. (He was pleased that they were so comfortable, staffers say).
Some of the station’s journalists wondered whether the union organizing effort had a direct implication on Kravetz’s departure, and why he did not personally address the newsroom.
“I’m shell-shocked. Where did this come from?” asked Bruce Gellerman, a senior correspondent at the station. “This is the house that Charles Kravetz has transformed. We’ve grown in ways that were almost unimaginable. We’re a powerhouse of news and information in really difficult times, and we’re growing. Why would you want to disrupt that?”
Kravetz was known for making bold decisions, and sharing his opinions openly about the direction of the station.
“Charlie was a leader who really cared about this station, he listened to everything that we did and really put his heart and soul into being sure that WBUR is a place that’s thriving,” said Meghna Chakrabarti, the cohost of “On Point.” “He brought an editorial mind-set that sometimes involved telling me straight that something didn’t work, but he always treated me with respect and kindness. Even when I lost battles with him, I always felt like he treated me with care, support, and respect.”
Boston University released a notably spare statement addressing Kravetz’s departure, saying the “University recognizes and appreciates all the good and substantial contributions Mr. Kravetz made to WBUR over the years, and we wish him well in his future endeavors.”
BU’s senior vice president for operations, Gary Nicksa, told the newsroom that the departure would be effective immediately, and that Sam Fleming, the station’s current managing director for news and programming, would act in his stead.
Nicksa said that Kravetz would be acting as a consultant for the station through June 30, and, according to journalists present, that Kravetz had been asked to “keep a distance” from the station and would not be able to “freely come and go.”
Kravetz was a veteran of the Boston news industry for more than three decades, he previously worked at NECN and WCVB-TV. He pursued multiple revenue streams and increasingly national reach. His tenure coincided with the revolution of the audio economy through podcasts, and he established partnerships with The New York Times, Washington Post, and the Globe.
But he also oversaw a tumultuous period for the past 14 months, as the station conducted an internal analysis of its culture in the wake of the dismissal of one of its stars, Tom Ashbrook, the former host of the nationally syndicated show “On Point.”
Ashbrook had been determined to have created a hostile work environment where employees were subject to “verbal assaults, intimidating actions, consistent bullying, and unwanted touching,” according to an internal review.
That review was followed by an internal “climate survey” conducted over several months and released last year by the Longpoint consulting firm. Its report identified a need for the station’s general manager to have “better communication within the organization, greater accountability on the part of the WBUR leadership team, improved performance management oversight, and a greater awareness of the impact of the leadership style on station culture.”
Some in the newsroom said that Kravetz acknowledged his failings in the Ashbrook case, and tried to address them.
“Charlie was contrite in the way that the Ashbrook scandal played out,” said reporter Max Larkin. “He was candid that he thought that he had failed, and there was a real effort and that it hadn’t panned out.”
But Larkin and others in the newsroom said that the situation led to introspection and contributed to the decision to unionize.
Larkin said he remained optimistic about the station’s future. “I don’t see a lot of people losing faith in what we can accomplish as a station.”