Taxpayer ‘Investment’ in ‘Public Media’ Is Key to NPR’s Success, CEO Says

By Nicholas Ballasy | March 8, 2011 | 4:01 AM EST

President and CEO of National Public Radio (NPR) Vivian Schiller

( - The president and CEO of National Public Radio (NPR), Vivian Schiller, said federal funding is “critical” to NPR’s success and that the station is “successful because of the investment that the American public has made in public media over 40 years.”

“NPR is successful, not because we're smarter than anyone else. We aren't,” Schiller said during a luncheon at the National Press Club on Monday. “Nor because we have different values. We don't. And certainly not because we don't have to worry about the bottom line. Believe me, we do.”

“We are successful because of the investment that the American public has made in public media over 40 years and – this is critical– the way in which we've gradually been able to leverage that investment to build other sources of support,” said Schiller.

According to NPR’s Web site, the organization “does receive a small number of competitive grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and federal agencies like the Department of Education and the Department of Commerce. This funding amounts to approximately 2% of NPR’s overall revenues.”

However, Schiller said federal funding makes up 10 percent of NPR’s budget.

“Modest as it is, government funding is critical because it allows taxpayers to leverage a small investment into a very large one,” she said. “It is seed money. Station managers tell me that 10 percent plays a critical role in generating the other 90 percent that makes their broadcasts possible.

“The fact that we have four sources of revenue – listeners, philanthropy, corporate and government – helps ensure that public media is not beholden to any one source of revenue,” said Schiller. “Indeed, it is through this diversity of funding that we are able to maintain our journalistic independence.”

During the question-and-answer session of the luncheon, Schiller said that cutting NPR’s federal funding would have a “profound impact on its operations.”

“It would have a profound impact we believe on our ability, public broadcasting’s ability, to deliver news and information in the case of television, cultural programming and the arts to the audience,” she said.