MELISSA BLOCK, host: NPR has a new president and CEO. He is Gary Knell, who spent the last 20 years with Sesame Workshop; that's the company behind Public Television's "Sesame Street." Knell joins NPR after a tumultuous year here, which saw the ouster of several top executives following a video sting, and the controversial termination of news analyst Juan Williams. And there are renewed moves in Congress to eliminate federal funding for public radio.
Gary Knells joins me here in the studio. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, and to NPR.
GARY KNELL: Well, Melissa, it's really great to be here. Thanks.
BLOCK: Great. I've been seeing some video of you standing side-by-side with Elmo or with Grover - a variety of "Sesame Street" characters. Very different worlds, obviously, coming from Sesame Workshop to NPR. How do you think your experience there qualifies you, if it does, to run what is an international news organization? - primary news source for millions of people.
KNELL: Well, they may appear as very different things but in many ways, they're not. I mean, we're a content company. We take our work very seriously - I think as seriously as the journalists here take their work. And in our case, it's really about providing content around early childhood education - and you've got to get that right. Parents are trusting their kids with your content, and that's a big responsibility.
And I think there's a parallel responsibility here, in the world of journalism, to get the story right, to feed an accurate story that's fair, and deliver great content. So I think what I've been doing is running a media organization through this kind of turbulent landscape, which everyone is feeling. Hopefully, I'll be able to bring those skills over here, and see our way to a great digital future in public radio.
BLOCK: I mentioned the renewed moves in Congress to stop funding public radio. NPR gets about 2 percent of its budget through grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. But member stations get far more - an average of about 15 percent of their budget. Would NPR and public radio stations be better off without federal funding? You do hear this argument a lot.
KNELL: Yeah. I mean, I don't think so. I think - look, I think public radio has to do a better job in making the case. I think as we look at the landscape of news in this country, commercial radio's pretty much abandoned serious news on a local basis. Newspapers are falling by the wayside every single day. There's a case to be made that we really need to have local news coverage to have an informed citizenry, and a lot of places in this country that just lack that. There is a need to have public funding, and I think it needs to be better articulated. But I would say that, you know, we've got to look at every one of our funding sources.
BLOCK: I was reading a tweet from your predecessor in this job, the former CEO of NPR, Vivian Schiller. She was ousted in March. She said this about your selection: Best shot to liberate pub radio from untenable reliance on federal money. Untenable reliance, do you see it that way?
KNELL: Well, with all due respect to Vivian, I think what she was hinting at was my desire to be a builder and to be entrepreneurial, and to try to look at all ways to grow funding. I mean, I'm not willing to throw in the towel, if that's what the question is. I think that would be a mistake. I think this is an essential service that should be promoted. I think we've got to grow the enterprise, and we've got to look at all of these pieces of funding for NPR, going forward. So I take her comment as a compliment, and we'll leave it there.
BLOCK: But if she says it's untenable, you would say no?
KNELL: I don't think - look, it's been around for - what, it started in 1969? We're 42 or 43 years later, you know. Public broadcasting has - this isn't the first time it's been kind of battered around on Capitol Hill, and it survived because it has huge public support. There's 35 million listeners of NPR every month, in every state and community in this country. And they bring some political clout, I think, in terms of making the case. It's an essential part of their daily lives, maybe just as libraries and schools and museums are, and other things in their community at the end...
BLOCK: Those are all things that are being cut, too - libraries, museums and schools.
KNELL: Sure, OK. But it doesn't mean you don't fight for them. And I would certainly fight pretty hard to keep my library open in my town.
BLOCK: What do you think the political reality is right now on Capitol Hill regarding funding for public radio?
KNELL: The political environment is difficult for everybody, so I don't think it's just about public radio or public television. It's a very tough environment. And anyone who is trying to make the case for public funding's going to have to work twice as hard to make that case going forward, and that's going to be the challenge going ahead.
BLOCK: Gary Knell, the new president and CEO of NPR, thanks very much.
KNELL: Great to be here. Thanks so much.
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