NPR Names New CEO
RACHEL MARTIN, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. NPR has named a new president and chief executive officer. He is Gary E. Knell, president and CEO of Sesame Workshop, the company that produces "Sesame Street." Knell's appointment comes after a six-month long search following the resignation of NPR's former CEO Vivian Schiller. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us now from New York now. David, what can you tell us about Gary Knell?
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Well, Gary Knell is 57 years old, and as you say, he's been with Sesame Workshop. They're the folks behind Sesame Street and other children's programming in Public Broadcasting. He's been there since 1989. And he feels that he's gained a recognition of how public broadcasting works, the mission behind it, the need to educate, and as he told me a little bit earlier, the need to inform in a safe harbor for people to not only act as consumers but as citizens.
MARTIN: David, let's rewind a little bit. Take us back six months. What led to Vivian Schiller's departure from NPR?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, there was kind of this trio of crises that beset NPR. As you may recall, there was the termination of our former colleague Juan William's contract as commentator here for comments he made about Muslims that set off sort of a political firestorm. And it occurred amid the mid-term elections last fall and also occurred in a way that fueled debate in Congress over whether funding should be cut for public broadcasting in general and for NPR in particular.
This rattled deeply, not only folks at our network, but also especially at the stations which are more heavily reliant than we are for funding from federal sources as well as from state sources. Then in January, our former news executive - chief news executive Ellen Weiss felt compelled to resign.
And in March, NPR was targeted - two of its top fundraisers - by James O'Keefe, the conservative videographer and provocateur. He sought to bring down NPR, and in effect, he did that, leading to the ouster of our top fundraiser but also ultimately that same day the ouster of our CEO.
MARTIN: So what will Gary Knell be walking into here at NPR? What will be his major challenges?
FOLKENFLIK: In talking to him, he sets it out this way. He says, look, I need to ensure that there's broad-based funding sources for the network, and that involves a multi-tiered plan. There's federal funding, state governments provide some funding as well. In addition, NPR receives significant underwriting from private sources. People in commercial worlds might call them ads, although there's some difference there, and it's significant financial support from philanthropies, from charitable foundations.
He wants to do that, ensure that those stool legs are strong and supporting the network. In addition, he says, look, I want to de-politicize the public conversation about NPR. After all, NPR reaches tens of millions of Americans every week. It's trusted greatly. The name brand has expanded as our ambitions and as the network's reach has expanded.
And he wants to take this out of the notion that it's about conservatives and liberals and talk about this as a fair space in which people can talk about, discuss and dissect issues of public importance. Finally, he says, look, we have to be competitive in a multi-platform world. He says Sesame Workshop, the producers and creators of "Sesame Street," has had to compete as well.
There are new outlets. There are new broadcasters, but there are also new platforms on which you have to compete. For NPR, this is true as well. It has tried to navigate that world quite ably in the digital space, but it's also had to navigate its relationship with its stations, which don't want to be pre-empted by people's ability to get NPR content all over the country and all over the world whenever and however they want it.
MARTIN: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik talking about NPR's new CEO, Gary E. Knell. David, thanks so much.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
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