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NPR's Terence Samuel to lead USA Today

USA Today has appointed NPR Vice President for Newsgathering and Executive Editor Terence Samuel as its next editor in chief. He will inherit a newsroom with a national reputation buffeted by repeated cuts.
Stephen Voss
USA Today has appointed NPR Vice President for Newsgathering and Executive Editor Terence Samuel as its next editor in chief. He will inherit a newsroom with a national reputation buffeted by repeated cuts.

Updated June 2, 2023 at 1:32 PM ET

USA Today has named Terence Samuel, a veteran political journalist who has helped to lead NPR's newsroom since 2017, to be its next editor in chief.

Samuel, currently NPR's vice president of newsgathering and executive editor, will inherit a once-proud news title devastated by cuts. USA Today's parent company, Gannett, has cut 54 percent of its staff over the past four years, according to Jon Schleuss, president of the News Guild, which represents hundreds of journalists throughout the company, though not at USA Today.

Samuel will depart a national broadcast network with vast reach and its own financial strains: NPR recently underwent serious cutbacks that included a 10-percent reduction in staff due to a collapse of podcast sponsorships.

Gannett's challenges are, if anything, more severe. It has been hit by the problems in the newspaper industry and by a crushing debt burden born of the financing by which GateHouse Media, a community-newspaper company, swallowed the old Gannett Company.

At USA Today, Samuel replaces Nicole Carroll, who departed earlier this year. Hundreds of Gannett Co. journalists are planning to stage a walkout next week to protest the compensation for its chief executive and the slashing cuts to the chain's newsrooms.

Samuel is known within NPR as an affable figure who operates with confidence born of decades of Washington experience. Prior to joining NPR, he was a politics editor at the Washington Post responsible for its coverage of the White House and Congress. He also reported for the The Roanoke Times & World News, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and U.S. News & World Report. He got his start at The Village Voice in New York.

In a brief interview, Samuel said he arrived at NPR the day before then President Donald Trump fired FBI Director Jim Comey.

"It's been the craziest of times from the beginning until the very end," Samuel said of his NPR experience. "This is a far more collaborative newsroom than the one I walked into. I particularly love that we are faster, broader and deeper than we were — both digitally and on the air."

His last day at NPR will be June 23. He will start at USA Today on July 10. Gannett had intended to announce this news on Monday, but put out a statement early Friday afternoon after learning NPR was about to report the news based on information from three sources with direct knowledge who were unaffiliated with the network.

In the release, Gannett's new chief content officer, Kristin Roberts, said Samuel would accelerate the newspaper's transformation, citing "his reputation of leading award-winning newsrooms and fostering cultural change."

While following a relatively conventional arc, Samuel's career includes colorful episodes.

In reporting for his 2010 book on the U.S. Senate, called The Upper House, Samuel became trapped in a snowbank in rural Montana after taking the wrong turn leaving the farm of a local Democratic politician named Jon Tester. Tester, who is now running for his fourth term in the Senate, hauled Samuel's car out of the snow using a tractor.

More recently, Samuel became the target of ire from conservative activists online after he said NPR didn't "want to waste our time on stories that are not really stories" in explaining why it didn't follow The New York Post's reporting on a laptop linked to Hunter Biden. The quote was isolated and promoted on social media by the office of the network's public editor.

At the time, NPR had been refused access to review any of the materials on which the Post based its story. Subsequent reporting, much later, by The Washington Post and The New York Times, appears to have bolstered the authenticity of the laptop and to have undercut some of the grander claims made by The New York Post. Samuel publicly appeared unfazed, focusing on the network's reporting.

NPR will conduct a national search for Samuel's replacement, Edith Chapin, the interim senior vice president of news, said in a note to staff.

"We will be looking to hire someone as soon as possible," she said.

Disclosure: This story was reported and written by NPR Media Correspondent David Folkenflik. It was edited by Deputy Business Editor Emily Kopp. Under NPR's protocol for reporting on itself, no NPR corporate official or news executive reviewed this story before it was posted publicly.

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David Folkenflik
David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.