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Morning minus Bob:
Klose ‘embarrassed’ by NPR’s many missteps

Originally published in Current, May 24, 2004
By Mike Janssen

The din has quieted in the media, and a Morning Edition with Bob Edwards is but a memory, but it's never too late to say you're sorry.

Facing a hotel ballroom full of station managers May 11 [2004], NPR President Kevin Klose apologized at length for the fumbling of Edwards' reassignment. ". . . I actually am embarrassed to think, as I do every day, of all the missteps we took here," he said at the network's annual membership meeting in Arlington, Va.

"In this stormy passage, I have learned some very, very painful lessons," he added.

NPR's decision to make Edwards a senior correspondent, announced March 23, sparked a record number of complaints — often filled with fury and profound disappointment — and a wave of bilious editorializing across the country.

Even backers of the change within public radio excoriated NPR for its lack of timing and style. The announcement came just weeks before fund drives at many stations, but general managers, who expect to be clued in about major changes at the network, felt left in the dark about the reasons for this one.

Klose acknowledged to managers that NPR's message was "muddled" for too many days after the initial press release. In the future, he said, NPR will discuss such decisions with plain language and credible statements "that reflect our core values."

"I can guaran-darn-tee you, actually, that going forward from this moment in any such future evolutions, we will inform you well and carefully in advance" to avoid disrupting fund drives, he added.

Klose also said that in the future NPR will vet major changes with constituents such as stations and the Public Radio Program Directors Association and will make clear its "regard for our great people at NPR."

Following Klose, Mark Handley, chair of the NPR Board, said the network had provided "a classic example of how not to manage change in public radio."

Board members knew of the coming change a week prior to its announcement, Handley said, and "overwhelmingly" agreed with the decision. But Handley regretted not arranging a dialogue between NPR execs and station managers on the board who could have given advice about program changes.

"We can't let one botched process set us back in the ties between stations and NPR," Handley said.

Their mea culpas followed others by NPR execs in the press. An April 29 Washington Post article quoted Bruce Drake, v.p. of news, as saying the network's first explanation of reassigning Edwards "had too much of a 'corporate' tinge." Unlike other execs, Drake was not called on in early media reports to defend the change.

Ken Stern, executive v.p., said in an April 25 Philadelphia Inquirer report that NPR should have handled the announcement differently. Reassigning Edwards months in advance of Morning Edition's 25th anniversary this fall made NPR execs look as if "we didn't care about Bob."

Klose's voice was almost entirely absent from media coverage. Lamar Marchese, g.m. of Nevada Public Radio in Las Vegas, said at the membership meeting that Klose's silence left him "very disappointed" and asked the president to explain.

NPR had prepared a set of statements, Klose responded, and felt it was best to follow the game plan even as it unraveled. He apologized for not stepping up "earlier and more clearly."

"We should have done it a hell of a lot better," he said.

Jay Kernis, NPR's senior v.p. of programming and a much-criticized architect of the change, was not on stage with Klose and Stern at the membership meeting. Marvin Granger, g.m. of Yellowstone Public Radio in Billings, Mont., cited the Edwards flap and earlier media buzz about NPR's plans to revamp its cultural programming. Maybe Kernis needs a "muzzle," he said.

But Handley praised Kernis at a board meeting later in the week. The programming veep, he said, had "the courage to do what others before him had left undone."

Web page posted May 25, 2004
Current
The newspaper about public TV and radio
in the United States
Current Publishing Committee, Takoma Park, Md.
Copyright 2004

Klose pensive

Klose said he learned some "very, very painful lessons" during the Edwards transition. (Current file photo.)

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