NPR's New President and CEO Wants to 'Depoliticize' Public Radio
October 2, 2011 - 5:00 PM
WASHINGTON (AP) — The man who helped bring "Sesame Street" to a global audience for the past 11 years will take over as president and CEO of NPR, the public radio network announced Sunday.
Gary Knell, the longtime president and CEO of Sesame Workshop, will start at NPR on Dec. 1.
Knell succeeds Vivian Schiller, who resigned under pressure in March after a former NPR fundraiser was caught on camera calling the tea party racist. The episode led some conservatives to call for an end to federal funding for NPR, but Congress ultimately retained the funds as part of a budget deal in April.
Schiller was also criticized for firing analyst Juan Williams over comments he made about Muslims.
Knell, 57, told The Associated Press on Sunday that he wanted to "depoliticize" NPR by highlighting its commitment to hard-hitting local, national and international journalism across multiple platforms. He said he does not believe that NPR is biased and wants to try to change the minds of those who perceive it as such.
"I think NPR needs to do a better job of telling a story," Knell said. "It's about journalism, it's about news. It's not about promoting one political agenda or another."
NPR's board of directors voted unanimously to hire Knell after a national search that included help from an outside firm.
"Gary is an extraordinary leader with extensive experience in public media, programming and education," board chairman Dave Edwards said in a statement. "As CEO of Sesame Workshop for more than a decade, he has led a large, complex organization through a tumultuous media environment, helping it grow by providing innovative, engaging content in new and creative ways."
At Sesame Workshop, Knell created co-productions in South Africa, India, Northern Ireland and Egypt and made the organization's programming available on a variety of digital platforms.
"Despite the fact that it may appear that I'm a guy who's doing puppet shows, that's not really true," Knell said. "It's a complex media organization that's global in size."
He said NPR was one of the few organizations that has a "bigger impact on the world," and that's why he was interested in the job.
Nikki Usher, an assistant professor at the George Washington University school of media and public affairs who has studied NPR extensively, said Knell was a smart hire.
"Public broadcasting is a world that sort of demands that you know a lot about the way that things get financed," Usher said. "I think it's a really good decision to go with someone who's inside public broadcasting because of the difficult situation that public broadcasting is in."
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