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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

WAMU Shutters DCist, Fires 15 Journalists

Executives at WAMU, the Washington, D.C. station of National Public Radio (NPR) based at American University, announced Feb. 23 that the station would cease to fund DCist, a news outlet that covers local politics, art and culture.

WAMU, which acquired DCist in 2018, said the decision came as part of a broader pivot to radio and podcasts. The layoffs are the latest in a string of firings and buyouts in Washington newsrooms, including at NPR, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, among others.

Martin Austermuhle, DCist’s former editor in chief, said WAMU’s decision to cut DCist would result in lost readership among younger audiences.

“We get that public radio does radio well, but you have to meet people where they are, and a lot of people, especially people who are younger — not even younger, I mean, I’m 44 and I probably surf the web more than I listen to public radio myself,” Austermuhle told The Hoya. “You need to meet those people online. Getting rid of that digital presence does not seem to make a lot of sense to me.”

The WAMU union, which represents WAMU and DCist employees, said 15 journalists would lose their jobs after the cuts in a Feb. 23 statement posted on X, formerly Twitter.

“These individuals are the lifeblood of our journalism. Our hearts are broken. We can’t believe we are losing our colleagues and friends,” the union wrote. “That’s thousands of daily stories, countless hours of work, and many, many community voices… all gone.”

WAMU general manager Erika Pulley-Hayes said the decision would allow the radio station to increase its focus on audio reporting.

“We’re making the choice to invest in what we’re better at than anyone else in this town, and that’s audio,” Pulley-Hayes told Axios.

Austermuhle, who now works in communications for a Swiss NGO, said WAMU’s declining investment in local coverage will result in poorer-quality local news.

“One thing I was always proud of was the way that WAMU, DCist just kind of soldiered on investing in that sort of geeky local reporting,” Austermuhle said. “Now they just suddenly decided, ‘We’re going to do it with a fraction of the reporters and try to pretend to do it even better.’”

“I don’t know how you connect those two dots. You’re not gonna suddenly do it better for a bigger audience with fewer people on staff,” he added.

The news came to employees in a ten-minute-long virtual meeting Feb. 23, a decision which Austermuhle said was demeaning to the time and energy DCist reporters contributed to the network.

“It was a total snub. I mean, it was cruel and unnecessary. Why do you have to lay people off that way?” Austermuhle said. “I understand laying off people is never easy, there’s no pretty way to do it. But this was the ugliest way. They chose the ugliest way possible.”

Caleb Richmond (SFS ’25) said that, as an aspiring journalist, watching a local outlet like DCist being shuttered speaks to the problems local journalism faces. 

“While I understand WAMU’s desire to focus on content with wider appeal, it saddens me that this has to come at the expense of local journalism,” Richmond wrote to The Hoya. “Independent local reporting is already under serious strain, and I have a hard time understanding why the network made this decision when NPR’s national headquarters, which is already making lots of content with broad audiences, is located miles away in the same city.”

Richmond said that the plethora of news in national Washington institutions like Congress and the White House makes it easy to ignore more quotidian stories of life in the District.

“With so much of national significance happening in DC every day, it can be easy to overlook local stories that truly matter, and the closure of DCist will only make it easier,” Richmond wrote.

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Jack Willis
Jack Willis, Executive Editor
Jack Willis is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service from St. Augustine, Fla., studying international politics. He won his middle school spelling bee. [email protected]
Evie Steele
Evie Steele, Executive Editor
Evie Steele is a sophomore in the SFS from New York, N.Y., studying international politics with minors in international development and Chinese. She has been on TV twice and has been quoted in Deadline once. [email protected]
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