WNYC's Overpaid Chief Is Taking a Month-Long Sabbatical to GreeceS

Laura Walker, the WNYC chief executive who makes a half-a-million dollars a year while her station begs for your donations and lays off staffers—is taking a month-long sabbatical to Greece, a tipster reports.

The sabbatical will presumably be unpaid—we called and e-mailed WNYC's spokeswoman to ask, and got no response—which would save the station somewhere in the neighborhood of $40,000. So that's good. But it makes you question how vital she is to the operation if WNYC can muddle through without Walker for a month.

Yesterday, WNYC's spokeswoman said she needed time to get us an answer when we first reported her outsized salary, but then never responded. In the meantime, Herb Scannell, the chairman of the nonprofit station's board of trustees, gave a a statement to the Chronicle of Philanthropy today:

Laura Walker's leadership over the last 13 years has been exemplary, as she transformed the station from a municipal-run station into an independent, multi-platform journalistic organization. WNYC is now the most-listened-to public-radio station in the country, serving listeners in New York and beyond with 350 hours per week of original content on air and online. It's a record that speaks for itself.

Scannell also told the Chronicle that Walker has actually gotten a raise since June 2007—the last timeframe for which public records indicated her salary—when she was making $486,000. She now makes $508,520, according to the station.

But if that's the WNYC board's position, it misses the point. At an annual salary of $500,000, Walker is paid $200,000 more than her next highest-paid employee and more than the CEO of the far larger National Public Radio, which makes her salary excessive by her own industry's standards.

And at a time when she's laying off four staffers and eliminating 11 more positions, a month-long jaunt to Greece is horrendous optics. She's also taking off right as Scannell, who was just elected chairman of the board, is taking over. His public statement of support notwithstanding, it doesn't exactly seem like the best way to impress a new boss.