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First Days of NPR's New Chief

by Jerome Weeks 5 Dec 2011 9:06 AM

He needs to add Spanish-language pledge drives, ween the network off federal funds, increase coverage of Occupy Wall Street, expand online availability — and those were just some of what listeners are demanding of Gary E. Knell, the former head of what was once called the Children’s Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop).


The New York  Times followed Gary Knell around on his early days as president and chief executive of National Public Radio. Knell is seen as a smart man coming in at a troubled time (the past 14 months saw the controversial decision to dismiss Juan Williams and the departure of several of NPR’s top execs). What he’s planning doesn’t sound sexy but seems fundamental: increase the online presence, strengthen local-national bonds.

NPR recently began a local-national partnership, StateImpact, that finances reporters in state capitals and is building systems to help local stations expand online.

In addition to the digital issue, Mr. Knell said he would focus on “core audiences and who we want our audience to be.” He also said NPR would evaluate content and what could work better, while addressing revenue.

He says he believes federal financing is a crucial component of public radio’s viability. “We’re going to fight for it,” he said, a stance that did not sit well with some critics last week. Calls with several members of Congress on both sides of the aisle were part of his first-week agenda.

Until he decides how to organize his team, he said he would not fill open executive positions.

“This is primarily a content organization,” he said, “and I want to make sure that content is what is driving a lot of the strategy at NPR.”