Tuesday, November 25, 2008

NPR's new CEO and new building initiative

I've just concluded my final set of meetings after 7 years as a member of the NPR Board of Directors, and wanted to share my impressions on two major initiatives underway. The first is the recent announcement of the selection of a new President and CEO - a top priority for any board. Vivian Schiller (right), currently Senior Vice President and General Manager at the NY Times.com, was hired by the Board on Nov. 11. (Story and photo from NPR here and an article from the Washington Post here; picture courtesy of NPR).

She's leaving the Times in December, and will start at NPR on January 5th, taking over for Dennis Haarsager, who has been interim CEO since last March. Vivian has some Vermont connections - she completed her Masters degree at Middlebury from 1983-85 in Russian language - so we're eager to have her come back to the state and visit VPR as an NPR member station.

The Board's committee made a thorough and very rigorous search with a wonderful team from SpencerStuart, and we had a large number of highly qualified candidates for the job, which speaks to the leadership role that NPR now has in US journalism and broadcasting, and the future that we have in new media and online.

My early personal impressions of Vivian Schiller are extremely positive - a great communicator, solid journalistic and media credentials, and keen understanding of the role that we have in our communities. She's going to be a champion for stations, I believe, and for the mission of NPR in this country. In my short visits with her I was taken with her solid, humble approach to the work, and good interpersonal skills. Is she perfect? Of course not... there is no major gift fundraising experience on a national scale, and this is her first CEO position in a public service organization. But my prediction - she'll shine in this role!

The other NPR initiative is the new building project. NPR staff and board have been working hard for two years (and more) on planning for moving out of 635 Mass. Ave, and into something new. The cost of keeping our current headquarters for the future is not really feasible with over 800 employees, and with that rational, have been investigating properties in the DC region. In the last year, we purchased a piece of land north of the Capitol and Union Station, and that property will be developed into the new home of NPR by 2013. The Board has a very strong architectural and development team, and some exciting preliminary designs.

Also from the national desk, the difficult economic situation is affecting NPR for this fiscal year, with a decline in national underwriting, and fewer dollars from investments. As a result, the Board has been advised that NPR will significantly reduce revenue projections for '09, and work to manage the finances appropriately while protecting and focusing on essential news gathering and the core mission of NPR for the future. I think there will be some difficult decisions ahead for NPR.

Here at Vermont Public Radio, we have some of the same concerns about the weakening economy, and the decline in underwriting. In future posts, I'll have more on the revenue and expense portions of VPR's budget, but for now, it's worthwhile to remind you that during this Thanksgiving time, we have much to be thankful for, including a completed endowment campaign, a solid base of support in our membership, and the important work that all the good folks at VPR are doing to advance the work of public radio in our communities!

Mark Vogelzang
President and GM
Vermont Public Radio

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