Former NYPR CEO Was Paid Almost $1.9 Million On Way Out

Former New York Public Radio CEO and President Laura Walker received almost $1.9 million in total compensation in 2019, despite leaving the public media organization that March after acknowledging she could have done more to address allegations of sexual harassment and bullying that led WNYC to end its relationship with three prominent hosts. (Walker stayed on in an advisory role through that June.) 

Walker’s compensation figures come from an annual federal tax filing, which is required of most nonprofits and was posted on WNYC’s website Thursday. The documents include compensation figures for the 2019 calendar year and list two “former” employees, Walker and former Senior Vice President Dean Cappello, among its highest-paid workers. New York Public Radio is the parent company of WNYC and Gothamist.

The disclosures offer a view into the financial costs of Walker’s departure from WNYC, which has weathered revenue shortfalls in recent years, including through borrowing and staff cuts, among other measures.

Recent audited financial statements available on WNYC’s website state the nonprofit borrowed $10 million in July, 2020, noting “there is significant uncertainty around the breath [sic] and duration of business disruptions related to COVID-19, as well as its impact on the U.S. economy and, as such, New York Public Radio is unable to determine if it will have a material impact on its operations.” In April, NYPR announced the layoffs of 14 employees, including four staffers at Gothamist and WNYC.

The nonprofit’s latest filing shows that Walker was paid just over $1.2 million in “base compensation,” as well as nearly $687,000 in “other reportable compensation.” That’s more than the approximately $901,000 Walker earned the prior year, her last full year as CEO and President.

A screengrab of the 990 form that shows the salaries of NYPR's highest paid staffers, including CEO Laura Walker.

A screengrab of the NYPR 990

In a statement, NYPR spokesperson Jennifer Houlihan Roussel said that Walker’s 2019 compensation “reflects not only regular pay, but also payments due upon an employee’s departure, including: vacation payout; payments from deferred compensation plans, which she contributed to during her 20+ years of employment; and other contractually-obligated payments due upon departure under a multi-year contract.”

According to the documents, Cappello, a longtime deputy to Walker, was paid nearly $294,000 over the same period. Cappello, whom Walker reassigned in the months following the abuse allegations, reportedly left NYPR in mid-2018.

The compensation paid to Cappello reflects “payments due under a multi-year contract,” Roussel said, adding that “recent cost-cutting measures and the elimination of management positions has saved New York Public Radio more than 15% on senior leadership compensation.”

Roussel said WNYC does not disclose compensation details beyond what is required in annual filings and declined to comment on the terms of either of those contracts, including whether or by whom either contract was terminated or whether the contracts were honored in full or had time remaining when Walker or Cappello left NYPR. 

The recent tax filing states that NYPR did not pay severances to any of its highest-paid employees in 2019.

Walker and Cappello did not return requests for comment. An email auto-reply from Walker said she is on vacation. 

Timothy Wilkins, Chairman of the New York Public Radio Board of Trustees, which hires NYPR’s President & CEO, did not respond to a request for comment. 

Walker, who is now president of Bennington College in Vermont, became president and CEO of NYPR in 1995 and oversaw a period of significant growth.

But Walker also drew criticism, including from some current and former employees, for her handling of allegations of sexual harassment and bullying by prominent WNYC hosts, including former Takeaway host John Hockenberry, who stepped down in 2017. A few months later, New York Magazine’s “The Cut” first published allegations by multiple women of unwanted kissing and touching, and other inappropriate or bullying behavior by Hockenberry, placing the station — and its staff — in the center of the #MeToo movement that was taking shape.

Speaking on WNYC’S Brian Lehrer Show days after the article’s publication, Walker apologized, telling Lehrer, “I have a huge amount of admiration and respect for these women for coming forward at this time and I apologize that our protocols were not there and our policies were not there.”

In the ensuing days, NYPR placed two other male hosts, Leonard Lopate and Jonathan Schwartz, on leave while the company investigated allegations of inappropriate conduct. Both were later fired for violating company standards for an “appropriate and respectful work environment,” NYPR spokesperson Roussel said at the time.

This story was produced by two freelance journalists. Investigative reporter Isaiah Thompson has worked for numerous publications in Miami, Philadelphia and Boston, most recently at public radio station WGBH. Fernando Diaz is an editor and journalism educator who most recently served as the Edith Kinney Visiting Professor of Investigative Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

Because this article is about New York Public Radio, no changes were made to the story without their approval in order to maintain journalistic independence. The executive management of WNYC did not review the story prior to publication.