The future of NPR

Those of us who blog (new media) in established media companies (old media) certainly noticed today when National Public Radio dipped into the digital world to name a new president. Might this be a significant moment in the changing media landscape? Yes. Maybe. She comes to the job from the New York Times, where she headed She’s a new media person from the old media.

But it’s a minefield out there. Just ask the previous full-time president — Ken Stern — who, the Washington Post reported at the time, clashed with NPR’s Board of Directors over Sterns’ insistence that NPR invest in new media, while some station managers saw the Web as competition. calls the appointment today “a shocker.”

Here’s the press release from NPR:

Washington, D.C. – November 11, 2008 – The National Public Radio (“NPR”) Board of Directors announced today that it has named Vivian Schiller, 47, as President and Chief Executive Officer, effective January 5, 2009. Ms. Schiller joins NPR from The New York Times Company where she is Senior Vice President and General Manager of She succeeds Dennis L. Haarsager, who has served as interim CEO since March.

Ms. Schiller has more than 20 years of experience in the media industry. During her tenure at The New York Times, she led the day-to-day operations of, the largest newspaper website on the Internet, overseeing product, technology, marketing, classifieds, strategic planning and business development. Before joining, Ms. Schiller spent four years as Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Discovery Times Channel, a joint venture of The New York Times and Discovery Communications. Under her leadership, Discovery Times Channel tripled its distribution while achieving critical acclaim for its award winning journalistic programming. Previously, Ms. Schiller served as Senior Vice President of CNN Productions, where she led CNN’s long-form programming efforts. Documentaries and series produced under her auspices earned multiple honors, including two Peabody, two DuPont and five Emmy awards. Ms. Schiller began her career as a simultaneous Russian interpreter in the former Soviet Union, which led her to documentary production work for Turner Broadcasting.

Howard Stevenson, Board Chairman, said, “Vivian is a talented and proven leader with superb skills and broad experience in the media industry. Her roots in the news business, as well as her inclusive management style and operational expertise make her an ideal fit for NPR. These are crucial assets for partnering with our member stations and generous donors who care about and support excellence. Vivian has generated quality programming and superior results at every step of her career, and we look forward to continuing the important work of extending NPR’s reach under her leadership.”

Stevenson continued, “On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank Dennis Haarsager for his dedication and effective leadership as interim CEO. Dennis has been instrumental in guiding the continued success and strong performance of the company during a period of transition.”

Dave Edwards, Vice-Chair of the Board and Co-Chair of the Search Committee, said, “During a rigorous eight-month search process, the Board met with many highly qualified candidates, and we unanimously concluded that Vivian is the right leader for NPR at this time. As a visionary executive, she will work closely with independently operated member stations to maintain the relationship with an audience of over 26 million listeners throughout the United States. Vivian possesses the editorial judgment and sensibility to harness the intellectual firepower and diversity of public radio.”

Carol Cartwright, Board Member and Co-Chair of the Search Committee, said, “We are at an important phase in NPR’s development, especially as the media world continues to manage through profound changes. Vivian understands the importance of radio as the foundational strength of NPR, and has the right skills and strengths to successfully navigate the company through a multiplatform world where the traditional broadcast business and content businesses on the Internet are central to long-term success.”

Vivian Schiller said, “NPR is among the nation’s most vital and trusted news organizations, unique in its original programming and distinctive voice. I couldn’t be more honored and excited about the opportunity to join such an important institution and its many talented and dedicated people. I look forward to working with the stellar management team, station managers and associates across the country to build on NPR’s solid foundation and grow its audience base of listeners and users.”

In September, Schiller participated in an online chat on the New York Times’ site, in which she tackled this question of “competing” media platforms:


.. we do not believe that a robust Web site is bad for our newspaper. A chorus of doomsayers has heralded each new form of media in the last 100 years. But radio did not supplant newspapers; television did not supplant radio; and there’s scant evidence that the Internet is fast replacing any existing form of legacy media, including print. In fact, the Internet has allowed us to increase our audience exponentially.

  • It will be interesting to observe the direction of NPR in the coming months. I wish Ms. Schiller the best and hope that she can do what is necessary to ensure the vitality of National Public Radio.

  • My only concern is that Ms. Schiller has the intention of expanding membership, and the public radio audience, principally through internet initiatives. In the case of public radio, as a scrupulous source of media, I perceive the internet as a means to greatly strengthen membership, in particular those hungry for media interaction, while also enriching content, but I do not believe that it can create the same opportunity to expand patronage as the New York Times, per say.

    Because the New York Times, for example, has very strong name recognition outside of its base audience, the casual internet browsing segment of the population is prone to utilize extensive internet functions without having an explicit devotion to the New York Times itself. This is to say that if an individual, from said population segment, uses Google to browse the news, it is very likely that he or she will happen upon a link to some sort of New York Times based content, and it is also quite likely that he or she will follow this link because of name recognition. Public radio, on the other hand, is not afforded this luxury and will not attract casual internet browsing individuals to any sort of degree comparable to the New York Times.

    The central avenue for expanding public radio’s base audience is that which travels between a parent and his/her children. Therefore, I think internet is best utilized, as a supplemental tool, in a manner that reaches out to those individuals already familiar with/aware of public radio but find it lacking (i.e. young listeners that rely on the internet and live to be heard). To deviate from one’s core competency is a potential means to alienating an already flourishing base. If Ms. Schiller understands this – I assume she does – and intends to build upon what already exists, rather than explore a new direction, she will likely succeed as the new president.

  • Tyler Suter

    source of news, not media.

  • I disagree that people would not follow links because of name recognition. National Public Radio has a good among the broadcast media organizations, particularly among the radio community as it is one of the only national organizations still producing news and not Rush Limbaugh. Would, say, Wyoming Public Radio, or even Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media carry that same recognition? Perhaps not, but people who do not know about public radio are quick to assume that, if it is called public radio it must be National Public Radio.

    Even if NPR does not carry that reputation, there is no reason why Schiller could not change that. The New York times has a lot longer history than National Public Radio, but given the current state of new media, it seems she is in a perfect position to make NPR a premier radio organization through the use of new media. Where new services like Twitter, and other social networks exist and looks great, many organizations and individuals still struggle with how to effectively use them. Schiller could make NPR equivalent to the NYT through effective use of these online media. In fact, they already started by moving away from real audio files listeners would have to download and launch on special software to a shiny and much more flexible web based player. That audio player, combined with the general facelift the site has seen in the last year or two make the NPR website an amazing content distribution machine.

    My hope for Schiller is that she is able to make effective use of new media to strengthen NPR without preventing the local stations from gaining new members. That was one of the reasons Ken Stern was let go. He was trying too many new things and not focusing on how to make NPR not a competitor, but a partner in public radio on the web. Picking Shiller signals that NPR was not unhappy with the growth of new media, but the lack of consideration given to the local stations ability to survive. Local stations provide an important service to their communities, but if everyone can get their content online from National Public Radio why listen and support their local station. It’s likely that had a similar problem. How could the NY Times use the internet to be a premier national news distributor without sacrificing the local circulation? Obviously she figured out an answer to that question.

  • Bob Collins

    I suspect it’s something more than coincidence that last week the New York Times and NPR partnered on a story on both platforms.

  • betty tisel

    What I want to know is, are NPR and MPR headed for a showdown?

    National Public Radio


    American Public Media

    We really need BOTH. No merger, PUHLEASE!!!!!!!

  • Bob Collins

    //are NPR and MPR headed for a showdown?

    Oh, gosh, no. In fact, in the 16, almost 17 years I’ve been here, I don’t think relations have ever been better. Clearly MPR — or more specifically American Public Media — has programs we’d like stations to find room for, (and they do) so I guess to the extent that we sometimes compete for ears there’s some competition, but it’s quite healthy and quite respectful and we consider NPR to be a vital part of the public radio spectrum and I can see no good coming from not having it be strong and independent.

    From what I can tell today, the public radio universe is pretty excited about Ms. Schiller and I’ve found that to be the case here in the newsroom today, too.

  • Thank you Greg for the response. As I previously stated, I feel that the internet is indeed a powerful tool to strengthen the current public radio listener base. What I did not recognize, and to a certain degree due to a limited knowledge, was the utilization of such new services as Twitter. Based on your explaination, it would seem that said services have, and will continue to, create oppurtunities for exansion and the spread of awareness. What I still do not agree with you on, and this may be a matter of perspective, is the fact that NPR’s name recognition, although not literally comparable to the New York Times, is known and repected to a degree that approaches the New York Times and can be used to the same avail as that of the New York Times. Recognition by the masses – and keep in mind that I am not talking about those already inside the radio world, because I do not feel that segment is the one that offers the greatest potential in trying to capture a new audience – will typically, in overwhelming fasion, look to a CNN or NYT over NPR when browsing online headlines. I recognize the fact that within the radio world, and furthermore those embedded inside of the world of journalism, NPR is extremely well respected, but those outside this sphere do not recognize NPR as a significant source of news. When I cite public radio in discussions of current events among friends and collegues, most of whom take only casual note of the news, I almost always get a certain look of disregard (a look that seems suggest that it is not a reputable source of information). Of course, in reality, this is nonsense (i.e. to disregard NPR as a worthy citation). But the fact is that young people, those who are not news junkies, tend to view public radio as fringe media. I feel as though I must restate, as to not be misunderstood, that I do believe that the new internet/cell phone services you mentined have the potential to change this trend; frankly I hope they do.

    In closing, I feel inclined to bring some clarity to my previous entry. I got the impression that you, Greg, felt as though I was questioning Miss Schiller’s ability. That is not the case. What I did say is that I hope she builds on the current strengths of NPR as apposed to taking the organization in a new direction. If we have learned anything from the .com bubble and many other recent events that have lead to pitfalls, it is that quick moves, particularly those intent on putting all of one’s eggs in the latest booming basket, often lead to failure.