Knell’s departure stalls discussions about expanding NPR’s Code Switch

Talks between NPR and CPB about expanding the network’s Code Switch to a local and regional level are on hold as NPR President Gary Knell departs for his new job. A CPB draft business plan for 2014, released last month, said that the corporation “is considering building on the success of the NPR Code Switch initiative by extending it to local stations as a regional initiative.”

The cross-platform production aims to examine issues of race, culture and ethnicity, and spark discussion on social media platforms and NPR’s website. It launched in May with a $1.5 million, two-year grant from CPB. Discussions about expanding Code Switch beyond its current operations are now in a holding pattern, however, as NPR looks for a new chief executive. “We’ve been talking to NPR and PBS about a national-down-to-local diversity initiative,” said Michael Levy, executive v.p. of corporate and public affairs at CPB.

Gary Knell leaving NPR to become CEO of National Geographic

This item has been updated and reposted with additional information. NPR President Gary Knell has taken a new job as the chief executive of the National Geographic Society. Knell will succeed the society’s current president, John Fahey, when his term at NPR ends in late fall. Knell has served as CEO of NPR since December 2011. He came to the position after heading Sesame Workshop.

Underwriting drop leaves NPR with $2.6M shortfall

Facing an operating deficit of $2.6 million this fiscal year due to a shortfall in corporate sponsorship income, NPR is stepping up efforts to cover the gap with additional gifts, grants and underwriting. These measures are being taken rather than “cutting deep into NPR,” a spokesperson told Current last week, after the Washington Post reported that the network had considered cutting Tell Me More, the daily newsmagazine aimed at people of color. The Post’s report cited anonymous sources describing internal discussions. NPR President Gary Knell later told media outlets that there were no plans to cancel the show. NPR hit a record high in corporate sponsorship income last year but is now struggling, with a variety of factors contributing to the slowdown in sponsorship revenue.

NPR rooted in stations that still require federal dollars

When Gary Knell officially started work this month as NPR’s president, he probably found no shortage of ideas about what he should do with an organization that has recently survived bad headlines, turmoil at the top and a near-death experience with federal funding cuts. But he would be well advised to ignore some of those recommendations. Some say NPR should simply forgo federal funding, which accounts for 2 percent of its annual budget. Receiving even that small amount, they say, leaves NPR vulnerable to accusations of political bias in its news coverage. How much easier it would be, they argue, if public radio would give up the federal dollars and ignore the occasional outbreaks of criticism from Capitol Hill.

Knell: familiar with dynamics

NPR’s next president already knows how a strong production house can continue to work with pubcasting stations — and also expand its reach with non-broadcast distribution partners. For nearly 12 years Gary Knell has managed one of PBS’s prize program providers, Sesame Workshop, which made cable deals and vastly enlarged its audience on the Web while keeping the first play of its primo content on PBS. Knell, like his NPR predecessor, Vivian Schiller, as well as recent PBS leaders, wants to play the major original productions in as many venues as possible, though with the member stations continuing to hold an exclusive broadcast window. “It’s radio-first distribution,” Knell told Current, “Then it should be made available more broadly, tweeted and smeeted,” he said, coining a word for additional varieties of social media. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re all over all that stuff.”

Under David Britt, Knell’s predecessor as president of the Manhattan-based production institution, the Workshop negotiated an end to PBS’s exclusive rights to its flagship program, Sesame Street, and in 1999 released older episodes to a cable venture — Noggin, a cable net co-owned with Viacom’s Nickelodeon.

Gary Knell, Sesame Workshop c.e.o., hired as NPR president

Gary E. Knell, president and c.e.o. of Sesame Workshop for a decade, will start work Dec. 1 with the same titles at NPR, the network announced today. The NPR Board voted unanimously to hire the widely experienced leader of a comparably prominent, esteemed and successful public media institution who had preparatory stints as a legislative aide and in private media and public TV. An NPR spokesperson said Knell would take a reduction pay. His Sesame Workshop compensation came to more than $746,000, NPR’s David Folkenflik reported today [Mark Memmott’s blog].