Powerhouse reporter Bob Hennelly to leave WNYC; station suffers a digital divide

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Bob Hennelly at work. ()
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WNYC has lost one of its heavyweights: Bob Hennelly, a longtime investigative reporter who's been with the National Public Radio affiliate for more than a decade, is leaving the station.

His departure was announced to staff earlier this week by Jim Schachter, WNYC's vice president for news.

"His is one of the names that listeners know and tune in for – testimony to his boundless energy, immense productivity and selfless commitment to meeting the news demands of WNYC’s audience," Schachter wrote in a memo obtained by Capital.

Some insiders told Capital that Hennelly's position on an ongoing union issue at the station played a part in his exit. 

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At WNYC, the lines between on-air journalists and those hired specifically to work on the station's digital news property, WNYC.org, have become blurry: on-air journalists do digital work and digital journalists go on the air, reflecting the same type of multiplatform cross-pollination happening at news outlets throughout the industry.

The majority of WNYC's journalists, of which there are dozens, were hired to work on the radio side in positions as hosts, reporters and producers, and are members of SAG-AFTRA, a broadcast union. There are a handful, however, who work in the newsroom but were hired as digital journalists for WNYC.org. These positions are not covered under the union contract, which governs things like work hours and collective bargaining.

The fact that digital journalists are excluded from the union contracts has ruffled feathers on all sides, sources familiar with the situation told Capital. Non-union hires look like scabs to a certain extent, while union employees get benefits the digital employees do not.

As one insider put it: "What are the reasons to keep the digital side from being unionized?"

It was unclear to us whether this apparent digital divide has elevated to become an actual issue in negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and WNYC management. A representative for the union declined to comment. WNYC did not respond to requests for comment.

It's also unclear whether Hennelly's decision to leave did in fact have anything to do with his position on the matter.

"It is not proper for me to comment on internal WNYC matters while I'm still employed at WNYC," he said when reached by phone. "Stay tuned."

Hennelly, a Paterson native who lives in New Jersey, was the national affairs correspondent for Pacifica Network News before joining WNYC in 2002.

Here is the memo bidding him farewell:

To the staff:

I'm sharing this morning what some of you may have already heard: Bob Hennelly has let us know of his decision to move on from WNYC.

Bob’s voice has been a signature of WNYC’s news coverage since he joined the station in 2002 and the staff three years later. His is one of the names that listeners know and tune in for – testimony to his boundless energy, immense productivity and selfless commitment to meeting the news demands of WNYC’s audience. Born in Paterson, Bob has brought a lifetime of knowledge to coverage of his native New Jersey, and a rich understanding of political, environmental, labor, justice and national security issues – among so many others – to his reporting. That institutional memory – and, to quote the man himself, the “situational awareness” it afforded him in so many circumstances – will be deeply missed here, and hard to replace.

Let's celebrate Bob's work at WNYC and wish him well as he begins a new chapter.

Jim