Mike Pesca quits NPR for Slate (so he won’t be getting an iPhone 5 adapter anniversary gift)

Mike Pesca is leaving NPR after a decade to work for Slate. In his farewell memo to public radio colleagues, the sports reporter jokes:

I had a choice. Quit now or work five more years to qualify for the iPhone 5 adapter. It was a tough decision, not made any easier by the fact that NPR owns my iPhone, so if I left I’d have to surrender that anyway.

But seriously…. “I have always wanted NPR to be a weeee bit more ambitious or daring, to be willing to take risks outside our comfort zone. So I’m leaving to do a daily podcast about things other than sports, though sometimes sports, because I like sports.”

Read his memo after the jump.

From: Mike Pesca
Date: February 12, 2014 at 12:16:11 AM GMT+4
To: News
Subject: Goodbye #longreads

I have worked at NPR for 10 glorious years and I have the clock radio to prove it. Because my anniversary gift, which edged out tongs, an electric bug zapper and tasteful turquoise earrings, is compatible with the iphone, but is not specifically compatible with the iPhone 5, I had a choice. Quit now or work five more years to qualify for the iPhone 5 adapter. It was a tough decision, not made any easier by the fact that NPR owns my iPhone, so if I left I’d have to surrender that anyway. By the way – everyone talks about healthcare portability; what about email and cell phone numbers? We need a COBRA for @npr.org addresses.

Now, this idea of surrendering your cell phone – that’s not sad. To me it’s turning in your microphone that’s fraught with symbolism. …

I want to emphasize that while there is no single reason why I’m leaving, a big one is that they’re paying me to. But also there’s a smaller, more subtle reason, and I hope you’ll indulge me as I try to explain what it is.

Kronos. I hate Kronos. If anyone asks why I’m leaving tell them that I cannot take Kronos for one more minute. Named for the mythological being who castrated his father and ate all of his children, Kronos was my downfall, my Waterloo, my No Gun Ri, my I’d Rather Eat Pants. Can’t enter a time in a line without a punch? No I can’t, or at least I won’t have to anymore you obdurate, nonsense-spewing compu-demon.

During my time at NPR I feel that I have reported, written, interviewed, and tracked for free, my pay has been in recompense for filling out time sheets and filing expense reports.

Fun Fact: Did you know that actuarial tables predict that by 2074 journalism will consist of a single reporter and 4000 social media strategists to retweet him? Fun Fact.

I started at NPR when a new show called Day to Day decided to hire a wet-behind-the ears kid who believed in the magic of sound. When he died of an as-yet unexplained outer ear infection they hired me instead. JJ Sutherland was the producer, Jay Kernis the imagineer, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them. Alex Chadwick was the host of the show and he encouraged unconventionality, creativity, whimsy and risk taking. Madeleine Brand, Martha Little, Luke Burbank, Jeff Rogers, and Neal Carruth also enthused, nurtured, goaded and peer-pressured.. That show was a great Petri dish for me and radio, thanks to the efforts of many many others (like Kathryn, Martina, Alex, Jacob, Karen, Hippólito, Laura, Chip, Poncho, Sven, Ki, Steve, Jeremy, Rob, Nihar, “The Gooch”, Alicia, Ki, Unctuous Lorenzo and the Big Man.)

Fun Fact: Since 2007 Italy has had 5 different Prime Ministers, NPR 7 acting or permanent CEO’s. Italy is still up 1-0 in Bunga Bunga however.

I helped out on a show called The Bryant Park Project, which is remembered a little like Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica. Hugely ambitious but you might not want to listen to it. Still some great talent there: Caitlin Kenney, Ian Chillog, Dan Pashman, Win Rosenfeld, Matt Martinez, this chick named Rachel Martin. She was fairly talented, NPR let her go soon thereafter.

But the real joy of my radio career has been working with the affable geniuses of the NY bureau. Robert Smith is not only the best reporter, he is in possession of the most diagnostic mind there is about radio. He shows that creativity and order are not enemies. (I do not embody that particular dichotomy). David Folkenflik is the consummate journalist; one who knows that if he were to hold other journalists to his own high standards of consummation very little journalism would be consummated. No, Zoe Chace is not from Chicago but has become like a sister to me. She is constitutionally unable to make boring radio.

Elsewhere on the organizational chart Steve Drummond was a booster and a great generator of ideas and insights into the color palette of Barney Miller. (50 Shades of Brown). Quinn O’Toole was the best editor I ever had. Here’s why: HE KEPT THE JOKES. This seems to be some sort of editing dictum, that says: “if it’s 8 seconds long we can just lose the jokes. “We can…”, Quinn rightly pointed out, “But that would make it a little worse.” Also, if Quinn said the line wasn’t really working I’d always believe him. I want to thank Tom Goldman for being the home to my away in every 2-3-2 series; the kiss-cam to my t-shirt cannon.

My editors Uri Berliner and Denise Rios shared a trait within the NPR corps that qualified them to be sports editors- they were the ones who knew how much a free throw was worth. They were both great collaborators.

Note to Robert Smith: It’s 1 point.

I also wanted to thank Robert Siegel and Steve Inskeep. I know we are not a star system but if we were these two guys would be the Spencer Tracy and Tom Hanks of NPR. In fairness, Steve never starred in a gender-bending sit-com opposite Peter Scolari, though Robert DID carry on a life long affair with Katherine Hepburn. Both Steve and Robert would frequently implicitly or explicitly endorse much of my on air merriment. Approval at this level is really encouraging. Robert, in particular had this habit of emailing me about certain stories I reported, a citation of the Sports Illustrated article from 1968 at the ready. I’d look it up in the SI archives, he’d always be right, and I’d always be edified.

Fun Fact: At this Moment David Sweeney is two sentences into his “All-Staff” about overly long farewell emails.

A few years ago, before Planet Money gave Adam Davidson the outlet he needed, thus sating his ambitions for a month or two, he would make this analogy about buggy whip manufacturers. He’d say that even if you were the best buggy whip manufacturer in the world, when the buggy went away so did your business. He was really talking about radio, or maybe the city of Cleveland, hard to tell now that I think about it. I love Adam, and think he’s a brilliant guy, but, for the record, I don’t think radio or NPR is in the buggy whip game. I think we’re the best broadcaster in the USA. Also, former buggy whip maker Timken Co. has a market cap of $5 billion, so, Adam’s analogy, there’s that.

But I have always wanted NPR to be a weeee bit more ambitious or daring, to be willing to take risks outside our comfort zone. So I’m leaving to do a daily podcast about things other than sports, though sometimes sports, because I like sports. My new email is Mike.Pesca@slate.com which will give you some idea of where I’ll be working. I’ll also continue on chatting with Rachel on a weekly basis, and talks are ongoing about my doing other public radio things as well. I will probably continue to appear on cable television, which for you interns is like SnapChat but with a bigger screen. This twitter account should have details.

As I say, I’m leaving because I was paid to do so, and because I’m excited for this new phase. But I will miss working for a place that I am so proud of, that puts out a product that I routinely am in awe of, and that carries such tremendous social cachet in certain precincts of Brooklyn. But of course what I’ll miss most is the people. And the iPhone 5.

Thanks for a tremendous decade,

Mike Pesca
917 xxx-xxxx*
*cell service ends Friday


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