"Public radio needs to do a better job of making the case" for public funding as one of its revenue sources, the incoming CEO and president of NPR said this afternoon.
But Gary Knell, who is leaving the top job at Sesame Workshop to join NPR on Dec. 1, also told All Things Considered host Melissa Block that "we do have a mosaic of funding that includes the private sector" and that part of his job will involve being "more creative in tapping those resources" — from foundations to the millions of NPR members.
Knell is replacing Vivian Schiller, who stepped down in March amid controversies that led NPR's board of directors to conclude that she could no longer effectively run the organization. The controversies — over the dismissal of analyst Juan Williams and comments about the Tea Party made by an NPR fundraiser — gave fuel to efforts by some lawmakers to cut off federal funding to NPR.
NPR receives about 2 percent of its budget each year from the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting and federal agencies — but public radio stations that purchase NPR's programming receive more federal dollars and send some of that money back to NPR in fees. In fiscal 2008, for example, grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting accounted for about 10 percent of public radio stations' revenue. The stations got about 6 percent of their revenue from other federal, state and local government sources.
On All Things Considered, Knell said that NPR is akin to "public libraries and public museums," which also receive government support. And at a time when commercial radio stations and local newspapers are cutting coverage of local news, the role of public radio is more important that ever, he argued. "We really need to have local news coverage to have an informed citizenry," Knell said.
The incoming CEO also addressed the question of how the CEO of an organization best known for producing Sesame Street is ready to be the CEO of a major news outlet. Sesame Workshop, he said, is "a content company. ... We take our work very seriously — as seriously as the journalists here take their work."
Just as parents trust their children to Sesame Street and its material, the 57-year-old Knell said, there is a "parallel responsibility" at NPR "to get the story right, to feed an accurate story that's fair and to deliver great content."
Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams All Things Considered. Later, we'll add the as-broadcast version of the conversation to the top of this post.