WBUR’s workplace culture problems apparently go beyond Tom Ashbrook

The "On Point" host was dismissed in February, but a newly released confidential report says the radio station still needs to take "substantive action" to improve its work environment.

Boston, MA  04011 Charles J. Kravetz (cq), general manager of WBUR in Boston, Friday, April 1 2011. (Globe Staff Photo/Wendy Maeda) section: Business slug: 05wbur reporter: Johnny Diaz
WBUR general manager Charlie Kravetz pictured in 2011. –Wendy Maeda / The Boston Globe

Tom Ashbrook may no longer be at WBUR, but the radio station’s workplace culture and morale problems reportedly go far beyond the popular but hard-pressing “On Point” host.

A new internal report commissioned by Boston University, which owns WBUR, found that employees feel they are treated unfairly and called on management to make “substantive action to improve the station’s climate.” BU hired Longpoint Consulting to conduct the review after Ashbrook was fired in February for creating an “abusive work environment.” The consulting firm surveyed WBUR employees in April and issued a report to BU in June.

A “confidential” summary of the report and “action plan” published Thursday by WBUR calls on WBUR leadership, particularly general manager Charlie Kravetz, to improve their communication, accountability, oversight, and “awareness of the impact of [their] leadership style on station culture.” WBUR reported Thursday that Kravetz read an apology to employees that day during a “tense” all-staff meeting.

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In February, Kravetz said he was aware of Ashbrook’s behavior, but “was not able to effectively address” it. According to WBUR, several employees thanked Kravetz and BU for delivering the report, though others were frustrated with the university’s continued confidence in the station’s top leaders.

According to the report, BU plans to hire a full-time human resources professional for WBUR and retain an “outside consultant with extensive public radio management experience” to address the workplace environment issues. Bob Oakes, the host of WBUR’s “Morning Edition,” expressed wary optimism about the planned human resources hire.

“It’s a good first step,” Oakes said in an email to the station. “But I suggest that person had better be a fair arbiter and not a BU or WBUR apologist as many staff members need to feel as if someone is on their side.”

Longpoint’s report said that while WBUR staff is the station’s “most important resource,” many employees feel they aren’t treated like it.

Longpoint’s assessment found, in large measure, WBUR staff feel the ideas they express to management are ignored or treated with disrespect (management promises to consider new ideas that are never followed-up on). Channels for feedback are unclear or disregarded by employees due to ineffective communication with the station’s leadership. While some departments were reported to have excellent communications, [other] departments were reported to have little or no communication which has resulted in staff frustration.

The report summary went on to say that employees said the station’s leaders “lack concern” for WBUR’s producers, while catering to on-air hosts. It also said that communication from leadership to staff had been “weak.”

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On Thursday, WBUR also published the optional survey Longpoint had distributed to WBUR employees, freelancers, and interns (nearly three-quarters responded). According to the results, 65 percent of respondents said the station doesn’t treat employees fairly and just 20 percent said their impression of overall morale at WBUR was good or very good. According to Longpoint, many employees wrote that “leadership does not listen to them or value their perspective.” And while most employees surveyed agreed that WBUR had a friendly and respectful work environment, a majority also said they did not think concerns/disputes were handled fairly or that employees were held accountable for expectations.

Forty-three percent of WBUR employees said they did not feel good about the station’s direction, and 53 percent said they would recommend working there to a friend. Still, others said the report’s findings should be contextualized within the larger, turbulent industry of news media.

“I absolutely agree with some of the findings in this report, but let’s keep some perspective,” WBUR reporter Simón Rios tweeted Friday, adding that the station “is far and away the best place I’ve worked.”

“Coming from a newspaper background and knowing what my print colleagues are experiencing, I count myself blessed each day I go to work,” Rios said.