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By Ken Stone

Suzanne Marmion (left) and Natalie Walsh began work at KPBS in 2010 and 1993, respectively. Images via Twitter and San Diego State University.

In a move that shocked the newsroom, KPBS on Monday informed staff that two of its leaders — with a combined 39 years at San Diego’s public broadcasting station — were gone.

Apparently fired were Suzanne Marmion, 50, director of news and editorial strategy, and executive producer Natalie Walsh, 54.

“I understand this news may come as a surprise,” staff was told in a message obtained Monday by Times of San Diego and tweeted Tuesday by Scott Lewis of Voice of San Diego.

The note came from the account of interim general manager Nancy Worlie, who acknowledged that the exits came at a “tricky time.”

“Our News team is extremely busy and has several open recruitments,” the note said. “Please know we are in the process of developing a plan to address the interim needs and workflow for the department, as well as the long-term need for leadership of the KPBS News team.”

KPBS declined to say why Marmion and Walsh had left, but confirmed their last day was Monday.

“I have no further comment regarding their departure,” said KPBS spokeswoman Heather Milne. “We do not discuss personnel matters.”

In a statement to Times of San Diego, Worlie said: “KPBS’ commitment to serving our community with unparalleled journalism and storytelling remains unchanged. We have an excellent team who have worked tirelessly to bring the region outstanding reporting. I am very proud of them for the work they have been doing and look forward to working with them as we navigate the beginning of the future for KPBS News.”

In her note to staff, Worlie said she and interim associate general manager for content John Decker would meet with the news team this week to “outline some interim plans and get feedback from team members on how we might reimagine the department.”

Marmion and Walsh didn’t respond to Facebook messages seeking comment.

Immediate reaction was mixed.

One current staffer, who spoke on condition of not being identified, said the newsroom on campus at San Diego State University was relieved.

“Natalie was not well liked in the newsroom and many felt she dismisses a lot of good ideas because she didn’t understand it,” the staff member said, suggesting a fellow employee’s complaint led to the firings.

But Pat Finn, a former producer at KPBS, said: “It is beyond upsetting that Suzanne Marmion and Natalie Walsh were fired. I believe that Natalie was given no specific reason or instance of any offense, which I would have thought was necessary.”

Finn said Walsh had been at KPBS for 27 years, “with steadily increasing responsibilities which she handled expertly.”

Finn, who produced KPBS Midday Edition and KPBS Evening Edition, said Marmion has handled a difficult situation — “taxing workloads, noncompetitive salaries, some pretty toxic employees — extremely well.”

“I was told she was working on getting the salary structure changed to try to bring it more in line with other local stations,” Finn said Tuesday.

Marmion, with the station since February 2010, said in her LinkedIn profile that she led a team of 45 journalists “producing breaking and in-depth regional and national news stories for the web, radio newscasts, a daily radio talk show, and a 30 min. nightly public TV newscast.”

She took credit for winning major gifts and grant support, managing a $3.5 million newsroom budget and fostering a “culture embracing change and collaboration, internally and with news partners.”

She also said she created and enforced editorial standards for ethics and excellence.

Marmion — a summa cum laude graduate of UC Berkeley with a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism — taught investigative and health reporting to journalists in Africa as well as multimedia storytelling at Columbia in New York City, said her KPBS bio.

She edited PRI’s “The World” program, covered politics in Sacramento, and won state and national awards.

Walsh, who began work at KPBS in 1993, was the station’s news manager from 1998 to 2015.

“In 2000, Natalie launched KPBS Television’s nightly news program, Full Focus. Natalie was producer and production coordinator on over 60 documentaries and specials for KPBS Television, including a number of national and award-winning programs,” said a bio on the Center for Health Journalism.

Walsh earned a master’s degree in Mass Communications from San Diego State University, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Cincinnati.

The dual exits follow the February departure of Mark Sauer, a KPBS part-timer who previously led the newsroom to major recognition — and was named San Diego Journalist of the Year — for coverage of the Bob Filner sex-harassment saga.

Sauer, 68, had been stepping back from his management role in recent years and was moderator of Friday’s “KPBS Roundtable” show — formerly known as “Editor’s Roundtable.”

Sauer’s exit was never publicly explained. He said it was a “personal issue.”

This article was originally published by Times of San Diego.

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