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New NPR Chief: Public Radio Needs to Make Its Case Better

Knell begins shaping network’s financial message

Though incoming NPR President/CEO Gary Knell doesn’t actually report to work at the Massachusetts Ave. headquarters in Washington until Dec. 1, he’s already speaking out on the network’s funding.

Knell, who’s currently president and chief executive officer of Sesame Workshop, told NPR’s “All Things Considered” host Melissa Block that “public radio needs to do a better job of making the case” for public funding as one of its revenue streams.

The NPR board announced Knell’s hiring Sunday night. He replaces Vivian Schiller, who resigned in March after the NPR board lost confidence that she could be an effective leader; that was in the wake of several controversies, including the dismissal of conservative talk show host Juan Williams and comments made by an NPR fundraiser about conservative Republicans.

Discussing the patchwork of public and private funding that fuels NPR and public radio in general, Knell said part of his job will involve “being more creative in tapping” private sector resources.

Board Chairman Dave Edwards said of Knell: “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.”

Knell called NPR “journalism at its best,” and said the network has a “deeply held mission, compelling history and boundless future.”

The 57-year-old’s hire comes as the topic of NPR funding again becomes a source of grist on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers looking for ways to reduce the deficit.

Knell has political experience as part of his three decades in public broadcasting. He has also worked as SVP/general counsel at WNET/Channel 13 in New York, was counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary and Governmental Affairs Committees and worked in the California state legislature and governor’s office.

Last week House Republicans introduced a bill that would prohibit the Corporation for Public Broadcasting from funding NPR and requests a report from CPB on how to wean public radio off of public support by fiscal year 2014.

NPR receives about 2% of its budget each year from the federally funded CPB and federal agencies.

CPB President/CEO Patricia Harrison said Knell has been an innovative and respected leader within public media.