Schiller discusses Juan Williams affair in remarks to NPR Board

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NPR President Vivian Schiller’s remarks near the end of NPR Board meeting, Nov. 12, 2010.

Over the last three weeks, I’ve heard from a lot of people — we all have — challenging what NPR is, what it does, and why we’re here. We’ve heard assaults on our programming, and on our objectivity. We’ve read some critical listener letters  and comments posted on and elsewhere. We’ve heard assumptions and conjectures about what happens at NPR, and how decisions are made, or not made.

Instead of the news we report being the subject of dinner table conversations, we have become the news.

For all of us, who rightfully take enormous pride in presenting comprehensive and fair and nuanced stories to the public, this has been a difficult time — made more difficult by recognition of the mistakes we made. The merits of the decision to terminate Juan Williams’ contract notwithstanding — and I do believe we were right to part ways — the matter was handled badly. It also came at a hard time for stations who were fundraising. Our staff and stations were unprepared for the questions that came up.

I’m promising you — NPR’s staff, stations, the millions of our listeners who care deeply about us, and the general public — that we are learning from those mistakes. We are conducting a review of our process for handling the Juan Williams’ matter, and, as you just said Mr. Chairman, we are also undertaking a review of our ethics guidelines to ensure they are clear, consistent, and understood by all.

Amid the criticism, however, we have also had many defenders — individuals who are taking a stand in support of our work, and the principles we stand for. We’ve had passionate letters from listeners distressed by the situation and wanting to help out.

That is why I think this moment is an especially important one to talk about what NPR is, why you and I believe in it so deeply, and why we matter.

NPR is one of the very few news organizations today that is still deeply committed to contextual original reporting — in our coverage of the day’s news, our growing investment in enterprise reporting, and in the storytelling our audiences have grown to expect and to love.  Take for example our new investigative reporting unit. In just a few short months, they have done groundbreaking work on the Massey mine disaster, the BP oil spill, and veterans with traumatic brain injuries.

As news bureaus close around the world, we’re pushing hard on our foreign coverage. Every day our 17 bureaus overseas bring American listeners stories and insights on everything from religion in China, to the drug wars in Mexico, to the shifting realities in Afghanistan, where our coverage earned us a Peabody Award for “precise, courageous, and often moving accounts.” Who can forget our reporting from Haiti. We were on the ground fast focusing on the aid efforts and the tragedy, and we’re still there today.

We’re exploring science, a beat most media relegate to sidebars or special reports. Robert Krulwich explains the natural world — everything from clouds of bugs riding air currents far above us to the impact of aging on our perception of time. Richard Harris’ coverage from the BP oil spill broke news with new estimates about the oil flowing into the Gulf, and we continue to track its impact

We’re celebrating the arts – leading the media in our reports on-air and online on  music, books and publishing, theater, visual arts, dance, fashion, digital culture, films, television and media, and arts funding and policy.

We are working to fulfill a commitment to serve audiences who are more diverse  and to more fully express diversity on our air — with new talent both on-air and behind the scenes, new beats, and a broader range of voices — and to foster a workplace where diversity thrives.

Finally and primarily — our partnership with stations is front and center of everything we do and will remain there. We are committed to working with our members in building the capacity for MORE to do original reporting at the local level and to deliver it in MORE ways. Public radio is about local communities; it’s about the stations. And it’s NPR’s role — and my mission as CEO — to work with our members to serve that audience.

In the last year alone, we’ve launched:

  • Our ARGO partnership — boosting local online news and diving deep into reporting on the major topics of our time such as health care, education, environment, crime, and poverty.
  • We recently announced our Impact of Government project, which ultimately will create a network of 100 station-based journalists to do enterprise reporting on the impact of local and state government on the lives of citizens.
  • And we’ve launched or are about to launch several digital innovations which will make our network as strong on the web and mobile as it is on air.

Finally, in the wake of the heat of the last few weeks, let’s remember what really matters. What we prize is the trust that listeners have in NPR programming. It is sacred. It is why we hold firm to our standards, even when it is hard to do so. It’s why we get up every morning to come to work, and what we think about every night when we go home.

At yesterday’s public session, new board chairman Dave Edwards stated his hope and belief that coming out of this difficult time, NPR and our Member stations will emerge stronger, and will become even more significant institutions. I am sure he is right.

In closing, I want to thank the NPR staff for their patience, their resolve, and their extraordinary focus on the quality of their work in recent weeks. I want to thank NPR’s Board for the leadership and guidance they’ve provided me and the organization. I want to thank NPR’s partner stations for believing in that partnership and being willing to work towards shared successes. And I want to thank NPR’s 27 million weekly listeners for making NPR part of their daily lives — and for being the power behind what we do.


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