A rule of thumb for news organizations: cover the news, don’t be in the news. The point being that journalists should not be the story. (Obviously, there are exceptions, for example when a news entity does something noteworthy, like NCPR signing on a new transmitter or winning an award.)
I was on the NPR Board two years ago when Vivian Schiller was hired as the new CEO. I thought we made a good hire. Vivian is bright, energetic, has a clear sense of the challenges public radio faces, and is enthusiastic about the possibilities for our industry. But, once too often in recent months, NPR–and to some extent Vivian herself–has been the object of problematic news stories. Finally, after the “sting” video featuring NPR VP Ron Schiller (no relation to Vivian) making some injudicious comments, it was one too many episodes of NPR-as-news-story, and the Board accepted Vivian’s resignation.
The buck does have to stop at the CEO’s desk. Yes, Vivian herself made one or two of the mistakes covered in the news, but more importantly, there is a perception that NPR is a bit in disarray. Who is taking care of the details? Who is taking care of the big issues–like basic guidelines for all employees vis-a-vis public statements?
Part of the problem may stem from repeated leadership turnover at NPR in recent years. In the past four years, NPR went from CEO Kevin Klose, to Ken Stern, to an interim leader, to Vivian Schiller. Over the past seven years, NPR has had four different News Division Executive Vice Presidents. Change is great, but too much of a good thing is not great. In this case, I believe excessive turnover has been destabilizing.
I’m saddened by Vivian’s departure from NPR. I think she has some important strengths. I wish her luck in her next position and hope she stays in the public media sector.
As NPR searches for both a new CEO and News Division Executive VP, I hope we find people who embrace the work and mission of public radio and want to dig in and make difference.