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Jan. 11, 2024, 9:50 a.m.
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LINK: www.niemanlab.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Sophie Culpepper   |   January 11, 2024

Yesterday, we told you about the tumult at the Houston Landing, where the newsroom’s journalists are protesting Monday’s surprise firing of editor-in-chief Mizanur Rahman and investigative reporter Alex Stuckey. Later on Monday, staffers sent a letter to the Landing’s six-member board decrying CEO Peter Bhatia‘s moves, which he said were necessary for a still-vague “reset” of the organization. (Bhatia told us the Landing needs to make “significant strides” in “embracing all the tools digital offers us.” He cited the 2012 New York Times story “Snow Fall” as an example of the digital journalism he wants the Landing to produce, Texas Monthly reported.)

Monday’s actions blindsided us. Nothing in the Landing’s performance, to date, appears to justify terminating two senior, trusted and well-respected members of the newsroom. CEO Peter Bhatia gave us his time this morning to explain his decisions. Unfortunately, we remain baffled why such drastic measures were necessary. We now risk significant damage to employee retention and recruitment. Further, the optics of such a massive restructuring during a moment of forward momentum will hurt our fundraising and financial efforts.

Landing journalists gave the board a deadline of end-of-business Wednesday to respond — and the board did respond, backing Bhatia. (The search committee initially charged with hiring an editor-and-chief and CEO for the Landing included four of the six current board of directors members: Jeff Cohen of Arnold Ventures, a top Houston Chronicle editor for almost 20 years; Rich Kinder of the Kinder Foundation; Ann Stern of the Houston Endowment; and Anne Chao. Arnold Ventures, the Kinder Foundation, and the Houston Endowment are key local funders of the Landing.)

Here’s the letter the board sent to Landing journalists:

January 10, 2024

Dear Journalists of the Houston Landing,

Thank you for your letter. It is clear that you all care about the direction of the Houston Landing.

As we are sure you can appreciate, the Houston Landing Board is not involved in newsroom staffing decisions, which are the responsibility of Houston Landing’s CEO, Peter Bhatia, and the Board does not comment on personnel matters. In communications to staff Monday, Peter was transparent about the path forward for the newsroom to achieve its strategic goals to differentiate, innovate, and collaborate.

From the beginning, the vision of the Houston Landing has been to serve the community with first-in-class, nonpartisan, independent journalism that stands apart in its coverage approach.

The Board has full confidence in Peter to shepherd this vision. He is a principled man and a visionary journalist. As stewards of the Houston Landing, we will ensure that Peter adheres to these goals.

Sincerely,
Houston Landing Board of Directors

This puts the ball back in the newsroom’s court — to accept the firings, protest more vigorously, or something in between.

Photo of the Houston skyline — taken from the Houston Landing’s Montrose neighborhood — by Manish Khatri used under a Creative Commons license.

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