NPR Picks Jarl Mohn As Its Next CEO

Jarl Mohn replaces Gary Knell, who left last year to run the National Geographic Society. Mohn is slated to start work at NPR on July 1.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

NPR today announced a new chief executive officer to replace its former CEO, Gary Knell. Knell left last year to run the National Geographic Society, and the new CEO is named Jarl Mohn. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik is covering this story. He's on the line with us live. Hi, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: So who's Jarl Mohn?

FOLKENFLIK: Jarl Mohn's actually a guy with a pretty interesting and varied background in the media world. He's a guy who was really one of the founders of E-Entertainment Television. He was a senior executive over MTV, VH1. He led - founding president, I believe, of Liberty Digital Media. On boards of various sort of important book digital and media outfits like XM Satellite Radio and more recently, comScore, which kind of measures digital traffic to major media outlets and other publishers online.

And, you know, the NPR board said, here's a guy who can bring us some real insight in how public radio navigates into the digital age. I will say he doesn't, you know, have roots in radio on a national level but he's been a big benefactor of what's called KPCC, Southern California public radio, a really important member station in Southern California. And also does have a little bit of roots in radio. He operated as a radio DJ under the name Lee Masters back in the 1970s.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Lee Masters, OK. So we're going to get a bionic man for the CEO. That's great. That's great. Would you remind us what has led us to this point because, I mean, this is, you know, this has been a kind of temp job, CEO of NPR News in recent years.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, Gary Knell came from what's called Sesame Workshop, what we think of the folks behind "Sesame Street," and really was seen as the guy to provide stability after some rocky years. And he really quieted things down on the political front, on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, and he helped to put NPR on a path towards closing of budget deficit that is still trying to narrow to zero by the end our fiscal year, September 30th.

But Knell announced less than two years into the job that he was going to head for perhaps more lucrative and easier climate of National Geographic, and he became the CEO there. And it's a terrific job, but it really took askance I think a lot of folks here at NPR. You know, I've covered a number of changes of interim CEOs and permanent CEOs over the nearly the last nearly decade that I've covered here at the network. It's just seemed like a too much a choppy waters and I think the hope is that Jarl Mohn will provide some stability in that regard.

INSKEEP: OK, so let's talk about the challenges that the new CEO will face at this news network that people are listening to right now.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think there is the budget issue that we've talked about, and NPR has made some cuts over the last couple of years and I think will continue to do so. It's got deficits now in sort of the modest single figures of millions. But that's real. And the second thing is negotiating with member stations how to move forward in a digital age, how to figure out times - you know, perhaps there's a future in which a MORNING EDITION and ALL THINGS CONSIDERED are podcasts; in which is not now done because of concerns that that might detract from the relationship member stations have directly with listeners.

And that relationship between member stations and NPR is a complicated one. It's reflected on the board by the fact that a majority of board members are actually member station officials. And it's something that Mohn may have some real insight to. He's not only been a benefactor of KPCC but an advisor. I'm told he helped shaped their slogan there - No rant, no slant - as their way of indicating this was a safe space for civil discussion of the news and public affairs.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should mention local station as well as the network itself are getting huge online. You have tens of millions of people accessing content that way, as well as on the radio. It's a changing media environment right now.

FOLKENFLIK: Exactly right.

INSKEEP: David, thanks very much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's David Folkenflik. And again, the new NPR CEO is Jarl Mohn. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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