Last October, Yale lecturer Erika Christakis sent an email questioning whether university administrators should advise students on what Halloween costumes to wear. It resulted in protests on campus and a heated debate around the country.
NPR recently announced a downturn in corporate sponsorship. The falloff in revenue has led to speculation about cuts in staff and programing. Gary Knell is NPR’s president and CEO. He succeeded Vivian Schiller, who was ousted after the release of a tape in which an NPR executive disparaged conservatives and in the wake of firing Juan Williams. These incidents nearly cost public broadcasting its federal funding. Knell joins Diane to discuss NPR’s future as it faces many challenges, including financing, competition for audience and changing technology.
- Gary Knell president and CEO, NPR.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. NPR's new president, Gary Knell, has a challenging job ahead of him. The news organization is facing a sharp downturn in corporate sponsorship, even as it continues to deal with political battles over federal funding, trying to build audience share and keeping up with technology.
MS. DIANE REHMGary Knell joins me in the studio. He became president of the NPR in December 2011. You are an important part of this program, so I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning, Gary. It's good to have you here.
MR. GARY KNELLGood morning, Diane. Great to be here.
REHMThank you. Gary, what is NPR's financial situation now?
KNELLWell, NPR's a healthy financial picture, Diane. We have been able to build, I think, a sustainable business model that is, of course, highly dependent on the individual stations, some over 280 member stations around the country, who pay for the programs of National Public Radio and other radio producers. And then we're able to supplement that with corporate sponsorships, foundations and some individuals who philanthropically give to support, you know, this important institution.
KNELLSo I think, on the whole, it's a robust public radio. We have a bright future. Obviously, in running any business, you hit a few road bumps, and it's a road bump I kind of inherited in the first few months here. But we'll manage through it, and I'm very optimistic about the future.
REHMOK. Let's be specific. NPR has been operating at a deficit three of the past four years and has had to dip into that endowment to cover expenses. So how do you get out of it? It had been reported NPR was at least considering cutting staff and/or programs. Is that not the case?
KNELLWell, we're not putting anything on the chopping block. I think, first of all, as I said, it's a budget that I inherited. We've actually been running cash deficits for four years, for the record. And it's not a way, I think, you can run a business for a long time. So one of the things I'm trying to do -- I'm a bit of a hawk on expenses and revenues, at least lining up. In a non-profit organizations, we don't have to hit margins like you do in a for-profit company, but you at least have to break even, whether you're the Metropolitan Opera or the National Symphony or NPR.
KNELLSo we've got to find a way to make sure that we're going to grow our revenue pie. And I'm going to try very hard, Diane, to grow that revenue pie before we have to look at cutting into the content operations of NPR in our -- especially our news operation, which is, you know, among the best in the world, and that's something that -- that's why I came here. So the first thing out of the box I do not plan to do is start cutting programs and cutting into the core of what NPR is all about.
REHMSo you're saying here that, for the foreseeable future, you have no plans to cut either staff or programming.
KNELLYeah, there's no immediate plans to do that. We are looking at a longer term runway, I would say. I think public radio faces, like every other media industry, its challenges. And if you just look around in the news media, whether you're The Washington Post or CBS News, we're not immune from that. So I can't say never, but I think, you know, that's not the current plan. And the current plan is we're going to look to grow revenues as our first line of attack here as we have been running these deficits.
REHMAnd a growing revenue certainly in part from underwriting of corporate sponsorship. How much of a loss of corporate sponsorship has NPR been hit with?
KNELLWell, first of all, you have to understand that historically, over the last -- even shortly, five years or so, there's been robust growth in corporate underwriting on NPR and the member stations. So it is -- it's grown up in double digits. It was anticipated to continue to grow on double digits -- not hitting that. Still, this is going to be the second or third most robust year in the history of corporate underwriting on public radio on National Public Radio. So we're going to be down several million dollars.
KNELLOf course, the year is not over, so you can make some of that up, and we're working hard to try to make that up. So budgets do change during the year, and we're trying to adjust ourselves. We've been working hard to keep expenses lean within the industry. We've been -- within the company, we have been cutting back on hiring lots of new people so that we are not adding to the expense base of NPR, including in my own office.
KNELLSo this is part of a shared sacrifice. So we're going to be trimming and at least holding expenses down and at the same time try to grow corporate revenues and also revenues from foundations and individuals who have been supportive working with local stations. So an example is we're working with the Los Angeles station on veterans' coverage, and KPCC at Southern California has a large veterans population, the largest coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.
KNELLWe're jointly out fundraising around a big robust set of new stories out of NPR, local events and local stories out of Southern California that we want to take to North Carolina, Florida and Texas. Those are the kinds of joint fundraising efforts that we want to do. And we think using our content to build out new revenue streams, Diane, for NPR is exactly what we need to do.
MR. DIANE REHMTell me about federal funding because certainly, when the scandals that brought you into your new position came about, there was a lot of talk about cutting -- completely cutting federal funding for public broadcasting in general. First, an awful lot of people asked me on this program in email, how much federal funding does public radio get? Now, let's put aside public television.
KNELLYou know, we could probably spend the whole hour talking about public television, but I won't do that, even though I spent a lot of time in that world in past lives.
REHMYou sure did.
KNELLThere's a lot of misinformation, Diane, about public radio financing, including on Capitol Hill. And when I go talk to members, there's just a lot misinformation. The fact is that National Public Radio actually gets no direct federal appropriation from CPB, which is the conduit for...
REHMCorporation for Public Broadcasting.
KNELLExactly. We do get some very limited money occasionally for grants that we applied -- that anyone can apply to, whether they are for-profit or non-profit organization. But the money does not flow at NPR. The money flows to the 280 stations who then use that money to decide which programs they want to buy. And it's about 90 or $100 million a year that flow to public radio out of this appropriation. And that is a -- depending on where you sit, that is a hugely meaningful number or a minority of your funding.
KNELLIf you're in certain parts of the West, for instance, in places like Montana, Wyoming and Texas -- Western Texas, this could be 40 or 50 percent of your budget as a station and allows you the capability to cover that state capital in Helena or Boise or wherever you are, where a lot of newspapers have either been eliminated or are cutting back. So we think that's a vital public service in many parts of the country.
KNELLIt's obviously in places like New York and Washington, less of a proportion of the amount of the budget because there's more corporate and individual support 'cause you got a much bigger donor base in those cities. So there's a lot of misinformation about this. Money is not flowing directly at NPR. The stations are choosing which shows, like your show or "All Things Considered" or, rather, programs that they wish to broadcast, and they pay fees to broadcast those shows.
REHMAnd the total amount going to CPB for public radio and public television is...
KNELLIt's about $450 million.
REHMSo public radio, the individual stations get about a quarter?
KNELLYeah, a little less than a quarter of that.
REHMLittle less than a quarter of that.
REHMGary Knell is with me. He is president and CEO of NPR. He took up that post in December of 2011. You spoke about your past lives. Tell us how your past lives have influenced how you're moving into this position.
KNELLWell, you know, as we all go -- we grow up, and we never quite anticipate exactly where we want to end up. Maybe some of us do. I'm reading Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson, and I think he did decide, at age 12, he was going to be president of the United States.
REHMHe was just on this program, right.
KNELLBut that's a little unusual. I didn't have those aspirations. So, look, I believed early on in my career -- maybe it was growing up in Los Angeles and in the middle of the movie industry, of the influence that motion pictures had and television and media have on influencing people's lives through storytelling.
KNELLAnd I really worked at WNET in New York, doing a lot of -- when the "NewsHour" started, when we were doing great performances in "Dance in America" and "Nature" and other programs of telling those stories, doing a lot of the business deals with the BBC and others, and then was recruited over to the Children's Television Workshop. And I found a home there. I really -- on and off for 20 years, being CEO for 12, finding the power of television to teach, and as Joan Ganz Cooney always says, it's not a question of whether television teaches us. It's a question of what does it teach.
KNELLAnd let's make sure that when children are watching or experiencing media that we're teaching them letters and numbers or self-esteem or dealing with people with disabilities or other things that are really critical. And that's led me to NPR to have that kind of a similar challenge.
REHMGary Knell, president and CEO of NPR. When we come back, we'll talk further, take your calls, your email. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. We've had lots of emails, phone calls for Gary Knell. He's president and CEO of NPR. Before that, he was in New York, certainly working on "Sesame Street." Now, here's one email, and I think a lot of people have been wondering about this. It's from Randall, who says, "I've turned to satellite radio for NPR and am distressed that Sirius XM recently cut NPR's programming in half, eliminating the NPR Talk channel. Why was this done? Was it an NPR decision as a gesture of terrestrial station support, or was this a serious Sirius XM decision?"
KNELLWell, I think we came to a joint agreement, Diane, about this, and obviously having less programming out there is not preferable. But it was an economic decision by both parties to keep a robust public radio presence on Sirius XM. I'm a subscriber myself. But we also, I think, are transitioning toward a whole new digital Internet radio economy. And through the iPad and iPhone apps that exist through NPR, you can pick up every station stream now and listen to your show and many other shows.
KNELLAnd we think that actually having that ability increases the bookshelf, so to speak, of programming options, so you can have lots of public radio on your time based upon an offering that is getting easier, smaller, faster and cheaper which is only going to become much more part of our lives, Diane, going forward.
REHMSo if you're in your car and you used to get NPR on Sirius XM, you now need to have your iPad with you or your iPhone or something like that.
KNELLWell, there -- obviously, well, you'll now have three choices. So your terrestrial radio station is obviously the first choice of what we would like you to listen to, your local public radio station. Others want to tune in through Sirius XM, and there is a public radio channel continuing 24/7 on Sirius XM. And also, you can plug in your iPhone, and most cars certainly have a jack now to plug in iPhones where you can literally hear every station stream in the United States.
KNELLAnd in Ford cars, we've done a deal with them through -- called connected cars through voice activation. You can now call up a show, like "Morning Edition" and other programs where you can hear the last version of that show even though it's 3:12 in the afternoon. And if you're in Washington, you will hear WAMU's last broadcast of "Morning Edition." So what we've got to do -- and I quote Wayne Gretzky, the hockey player -- to skate to where the puck is going. That's why he was a great hockey player.
KNELLWe got to skate to where the audience is going, Diane, and that's really about a joint effort with stations around the country to make sure that it's easy for our audience to find "The Diane Rehm Show" and to find other programs that they want to hear on their time wherever they are.
REHMHere's an email that represents quite a few we've gotten this morning. This one from Dan, "Please ask why Joe Palca went to Australia for a story he could've done by phone that ran this morning. It was a great story, really interesting. He made a great, big deal out of traveling to Australia. But the actual need to go there seemed gratuitous, and that money could've gone for a lot of other news stories."
KNELLWell, I think, you know, this was a decision that the news division make. I heard the story myself. It was a fantastic story about dengue fever.
KNELLIt was absolutely fascinating, and I will certainly check. But I am certain that Joe did not fly over to do one three-minute story and get on a plane and fly back. There is a huge amount of science in that part of the world that he will be covering and cover the waterfront of issues to bring back a panoply of stories for our science desk at NPR that will play out for months to come. So we don't have the luxury, Dan, as you say to make those kinds of things.
KNELLAnd that is one of the things, I think, that does also make NPR unique in the sense that we have 17, soon-to-be 18 foreign bureaus where, in most parts of the world, we have people on the ground who are living in Cairo, who are living in Islamabad, who are breathing, tasting and sleeping there and understanding the mood on the street, which is so important.
REHMAnd doing that in the face of other networks closing down those very operations.
KNELLExactly. And it's quite the opposite of having a TV anchor flying for Tahrir Square for two minutes and doing a standup and then getting on a flight home. I am certain that's not what Joe did here.
REHMAbsolutely. I fully agree with that. Gary Knell, you've said you want to depoliticize the public radio debate. What do you mean by that, and how can you do it?
KNELLWell, I think, you know, I walked in saying that the first day, and I just feel like public radio's gotten a bad rap. And, yes, we live in a very highly polarized political situation in our country. A lot of that is we've kind of developed channels of information that are opinion-driven -- maybe it's a Yankees and a Red Sox channel. And what we're trying to do here is to create a civic civil dialog where it's everyone's public radio.
KNELLAnd my message to folks on the Hill who had been criticizing us is it's your public radio, too. There are 35 million listeners of public radio around the country. It's a huge audience. It's bigger than the top 78 national newspapers combined. "Morning Edition" gets more people listening than three network television shows combined. These are huge numbers. So why would you not want to deliver messages, I think, to this major audience out there and -- right?
REHMHow do you answer that question? Why is it that most, especially Republicans, have been after public broadcasting?
KNELLYeah. Well, I think that there's, you know, there's different -- there's also different tones here -- colored tones, so to speak, of opinion. And there is, you know, there is certainly a libertarian argument, which I totally respect about the limits of government, and I understand that. And that goes way beyond public broadcasting. It goes into all kinds of programs of what should our government be involved in and what should it not be involved in, and we should have a robust debate about that.
KNELLThere are others who, I think, who have positioned public radio as kind of a juxtaposition somehow to conservative talk radio, and I just think that's completely wrong. I think if you listen to our air, I think if you listen to "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered," which come out of NPR's newsroom, I just find it hard to believe, 'cause I listen to it all the time, that there is a political agenda here. There is not a political agenda.
KNELLWe may make mistakes at times, like everyone, but it is not coming at it from a political agenda. And if you look at the daily stream of what we are covering, this is a pretty across-the-board view of America, including huge political coverage of the Republican presidential primary process, which we just, you know, completed and will carry through the conventions.
REHMSo in March 2011, Republicans threatened to cut federal funding of public broadcasting. It was later restored. How much of a threat do you continue to see that?
KNELLWell, look, there's always been a threat. There's been a threat from the beginning if you go back to the 1970s and '80s. There's people who believe this is something that should be funded, and there's people who don't believe it should be funded. There's -- museums and libraries face similar kinds of cutbacks. And it is really, at some level, value proposition, Diane, of what do we believe the public should be funding in this country and different -- good people can have different opinions about that.
KNELLI don't think public radio should be immune from the debate. I think it's a valid debate to have. I happen to believe it's an important thing, especially in parts of the country that are not reached by other media quite as easily. There are, you know, I was just down in West Texas where the fires were last summer and that public radio station in Odessa and Marfa made a huge public service.
KNELLIt was the only place people could find out about what was going on with those brush fires, the only place. So it became an epicenter of information. And I think if we take away public funding, we're going to eliminate our ability to share those kinds of information bases. And I think that would be the wrong thing.
REHMI want to ask you about certainly an incident that happened before you came in and obviously affected the fact that you came in, and that was the secret taping of NPR fundraisers by a conservative activist. That certainly showed that NPR has strong opponents. How does NPR make certain that each and every one of its representatives speaks in a way that represents all of NPR? How do you, as the president and CEO, make sure that's the case?
KNELLWell, that's certainly the goal, and it's about leadership. I think it's about making sure that my team and the team of leaders at NPR and in the public radio station community, by the way, because we are, at some point, married together across a brand. So when a station does something that is controversial, that also impacts NPR's reputation. So it goes both ways. And all I can say about that -- and I wasn't here, and I actually don't know these people.
KNELLI've never met them. So they're not here anymore. They don't represent the views of NPR. They don't -- they certainly don't represent my views personally. And I think that's a statement in and of itself.
REHMCertainly has given rise to the suspicion that many people have had, that NPR is this liberal-slanted organization.
KNELLCertainly we know that that has been a painting that we've been put into a corner. I don't think it is accurate if you look at the facts. And if there are instances of bias, we ask listeners to bring those to our attention. We have an ombudsman, who does not report to the newsroom -- he actually reports to me -- who will criticize the newsroom when he thinks that there are mistakes or there are instances of bias and publish those, by the way, on our website.
KNELLSo people do have a voice, and we urge people to use that cough button, so to speak, to make their voices known. You know, we're -- I think we've got to tell the story about what we're really doing out there. We've got to tell the story about the civic -- civil dialogue, Diane, that we're trying to create in this country and one where conservatives and liberals and independents can have a dialogue about the serious issues facing this country.
KNELLLook, I just went to the Peterson Foundation's debt summit a couple of weeks ago here in Washington and, you know, with a lot of our nation's leaders, and we're still not meeting in the middle. But these are the kinds of dialogues that we need to have about the future of the country, wherein former President Clinton and Paul Ryan can be in the same room and talk through these issues. That's what public radio needs to be all about.
REHMGary Knell, president and CEO of NPR. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We talked earlier about the health of NPR. What's happening to the numbers?
KNELLThe numbers of listeners or...
KNELLYeah. Well, listeners over the last 15 years have doubled. So it's a growing enterprise. I mean, the folks at "Sesame Street" gave me a hard time in my going away party by making fun of me going into a, you know, a great growing technology field called radio. But, actually, radio is growing. Audio is growing. Radio is not going away. It's going everywhere, and it's going on tablets. It's going mobile. It has a very robust future.
KNELLI think you're seeing even other news organizations like The New York Times or the BBC or others going into radio, television and video, as well as print. And I think you'll be seeing NPR playing in those fields as well. We've got a -- our mobile traffic is exploding. We're working with local stations to improve their Web presences, their mobile presences. We've invested a lot of money to bring all of the station websites up to a place where people can access content locally and nationally.
KNELLThat's a big part of our future, and we're seeing that -- we're seeing the major growth, Diane, on the mobile and Web platforms right now. And radio is flattening out. There's a whole lot of reasons behind that, including a change in the rating system that Arbitron has put in that's impacting everyone in radio, including commercial radio, which is still being sorted out.
REHMSo you're saying that the drop in listenership by 1 percent last year is simply because of these changes in measurements?
KNELLYeah. I think it's a combination of changes and measurements, and it's a combination of people accessing content on these different platforms. So...
REHMSo you're not measuring just radio.
KNELLYou can't. I think you've got to be -- you know, you've got...
REHMBut how do we do that? How do we measure every time somebody turns on an iPad or turns on a computer?
KNELLWell, there actually are ways now that are being developed to do that, and Google Analytics is one where people -- where you actually have a more scientific way of analyzing data because it's a truer mirror on the actual listenership and usership of content through the Web than it is over radio. So how these all play out together -- this is an industry that's actually going through a lot of seismic change, the whole ratings structure of media right now.
KNELLAnd there's robust debates in commercial media, as well as noncommercial media, about making this correct so that the underwriting community and the public can understand this better. And we're not there yet as an industry. This goes way beyond public radio. This is something impacting everyone in the media right now.
REHMDo you have the same kind of control, authority, hands in and on access as president and CEO of NPR as you did at "Sesame Street" or any other place that you've worked?
KNELLThat's a really good question, and the answer is no in the sense that there is a firewall between management and the journalists at NPR, which is very important. And I don't think you want to have the executives of the company dictating what the headlines of a program should say, just as I would tell the folks on "Sesame Street," you do not want me writing scripts or singing on the show. That would not be pretty.
KNELLSo it's very important, I think, that we maintain this firewall. That doesn't mean that if I hear something, I'm not going to express an opinion to our senior vice president of news. But she will manage it. And the important thing is that I have people in place who I trust will hear me and at least manage through and explain what the issues are to me as well, going forward.
REHMGary Knell, president and CEO of NPR. When we come back, it's time to open the phones. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd before we go to the phones for Gary Knell, president and CEO of NPR, here's an email from Mary Ann, who says, "Someone commented on the money spent on Joe Palca's visit to Australia. I'm going to donate $100 to the Science Desk to help with that trip. Science is so important to me. Thanks for pointing out that I need to support the sciences." So there you go. Let's go first...
REHM...to Fort Worth, Texas. Good morning, Ethan. You're on the air.
ETHANHi there. Thank you. I want to say that I listened to NPR from the backseat when I was a kid. And when we were stationed in England, I had the opportunity to both listen to and watch BBC programming. Now that I'm the front seat driving the car, I still listen to NPR, turn to it for its reliable news. In addition, I watch BBC programming through the Internet. I enjoy some of their great programming such as their news and "Top Gear." So I'm curious, Mr. Knell, how would you compare NPR to BBC?
KNELLEthan, that's a good question. I have strong feelings about this. The BBC is an amazingly robust global news organization that is pretty much 100 percent dependent on public funding unlike NPR, which gets a sliver of public funding in the public radio system. So they have a massive amount of more resources than we do. I think it's really important, though, that we have an American -- Americans covering the world right now.
KNELLIt's very important that we have Kelly McEvers in Beirut and we have Julie McCarthy in Islamabad and Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Jerusalem, who are covering the world with an American perspective, that we're not completely reliant on others who, as great as they are, are presenting a slightly different view and a different perspective on the world about our military, about our foreign policy, about covering who America is. And I think that's really important. I have traveled the world a lot in my career.
KNELLI've been to nearly 100 countries. And it's so important to know that Americans are engaged in the world and that things like NPR are covering those. That's why it is a tragedy, in some ways, that we've seen newspapers and network news operations cutting back on foreign bureaus. And this is why NPR is dedicated to continuing those. It's a very important part of our reason to exist.
REHMHere's a tweet from another J-Lo, (sp?) who says, "Some of us don't want to own iPads or other Apple devices. What is NPR doing to accommodate listeners like us?" And then another tweet, "How about for Android platforms?"
KNELLWell, we're very robust on the Android platforms. I didn't mean to give a plug -- a shameless plug to Apple, so we're very robust on the Android platforms. We got to be on all these platforms. And, of course, terrestrial radio, I don't want to downplay -- terrestrial radio is going to be around for a while, and it's a very important part of our media diet every day, especially for the millions and millions of people who are driving in to work or driving home from work or listening to NPR stations across the country.
KNELLSo it's this combination of being in different places where we can reach people and make it convenient for you, whatever platform you want to listen to your local station and to local public radio content. That's really the point we're making. And we've got a fantastic digital group at NPR who are working both at NPR and with the stations to make that happen.
REHMTo Ormond Beach, Fla. Good morning, Thomasina.
THOMASINAYes, good morning, Diane. I love your show.
THOMASINAI've been a steady contributor to NPR since I discovered them five years ago. I believe NPR is a national treasure. I remember, though, about seven years ago, Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, he aggressively tried to bring down the Bill Moyers show on public TV. It's a shame, but there are right-wing groups and powerful corporations who feel threatened by the informative open format of public radio. And I believe they would like nothing better than to completely control the media.
KNELLWell, Thomasina, thanks for the call. You know, we're -- I think this is really about, again, having a diverse set of opinions on public radio and even opinions that we may not love. So Marketplace ran a piece several weeks ago from a contributor, Tucker Carlson, who actually promoted the idea of defunding public radio. Some people came running into my office saying, can you believe they're doing this? And I said, I think that's a good thing. I think we need to have public radio feud as a robust center of ideas.
KNELLAnd we had Bill O'Reilly actually talking about his book on Steve Inskeep -- on "Morning Edition" several months ago in a vibrant, positive conversation about his book about Lincoln. And I think we need to have conservative voices on public radio. I think we need to have voices in the middle and voices on the left. And maybe we didn't cover the Tea Party well enough. Maybe we didn't cover Occupy well enough.
KNELLMaybe we were too conventional in our coverage of politics and didn't totally get the story why someone would live in a tent or rally around a community to throw people out of office in different parts of the country. It's important that we get out of the Beltway as well and we understand the pulse of America. That's a big part of what public radio is about.
KNELLAnd the advantage is we have 280 stations who have journalists and staff, over 12,000 journalists in this country who are outside of NPR, who are covering the nation and the world. And we need to take better advantage so we understand the pulse of South Dakota and the pulse of Florida and every other parts of this country.
REHMTo Brewster, Mass. Good morning, Dana.
DANAOh, good morning, Diane and to your guest, whose name I didn't catch. I'm sorry. But...
DANAOh, OK. Thank you. Good morning, Gary. You know, for the record, I'm a left-wing progressive bordering on socialist, and I don't -- I'm a believer in what public radio is supposed to be, but I don't understand where it gets the reputation of being liberal.
DANAI don't mind conservative voices of NPR practice what it preach, but it always runs, you know, the war-fevered coverage of Afghanistan and Iraq with no anti-war voices, especially on the flagship news programs like "Morning Edition," you know, I mean, or promoting commercial television programs uncritically, promoting the advertising industry with a lot of de facto commercials. I could go into details, but time doesn't permit.
DANAI just don't understand where -- and he -- and even your guest, Mr. Knell himself, referred to NPR as a brand which, you know, like it was soap detergent. So there's the influence of the market right there. So where's the left-wing -- where's the liberal bias? I don't get it.
KNELLWell, appreciate your call. I refer to things like brands and products not because I view public radio as a dish detergent. We do live in a world, however, that is a market-driven sets of economies in which we have to compete against commercial broadcasters and newspapers and other -- and the BBC and others. And I think it's very important that our message, our logo, our brand, so to speak, is prominent in people's minds so that they can be reminded to rely on our daily coverage.
KNELLThat's what this is all about. We are a noncommercial service. We want to stay a noncommercial service. We don't want to have corporate underwriting so robust that it turns it into commercial radio. That's not what this is about. So I appreciate your caller's concerns. It is a balancing act, and we -- we're doing our best to try to maintain that balance as we speak.
REHMThanks for your call, Dana. Gary, "Sesame Street" has been the news lately this week because the U.S. is cutting off funding for Pakistan's version of it last week because of reports that it'd been used to torture prisoners in Guantanamo. What are your comments?
KNELLWell, first of all, I'm a little out of the loop because I'm not -- I haven't been running the company for some time. But obviously on the ladder, I mean, no one would ever condone the use of children's programming jingles to do -- to work with any kinds of punishment. That's obviously never the intention. And, by the way, I don't think it's the first time that's happened. There were "Barney" and other shows that were used in other situations tied to heavy metal programs.
KNELLI mean, there's different ways of -- that have happened in the past, so obviously no one would have ever condoned that. On the Pakistan issue, I don't actually know all the facts. Apparently, there was a suspension of the program with the Pakistani partners who were -- who are actually producing the show in Lahore, Pakistan. It really had nothing to do with Sesame Workshop.
KNELLIt was some things in possible improprieties that they were finding in the Pakistani side. And I think they've suspended the project while they're investigating it. And it's obviously something Sesame Workshop would have never approved in any way.
KNELLWe were involved and continue to be involved in many parts of the world and very proud of the incredible track record of success in educating millions of kids in Egypt, in Israel and in Northern Ireland and South Africa and other places to bring them up to speed, to make for a safer world, not just for them but for Americans as well, to teach respect and tolerance and health messages and other things. So Pakistan, an anomaly, not sure of the facts, and then it'll play out.
REHMAll right. To a caller here in Washington. Good morning, Crystal Marie.
CRYSTAL MARIEHi. How are you?
REHMFine. Thank you. Go right ahead.
MARIEOK. I actually fell into listening to NPR because I previously worked in commercial radio. And after hearing music in the office all day, I just wanted to hear something else. I was almost immediately depressed when I realized that for years, I'd been missing out on some great programming. I just want to say my former company is a Fortune 500 company.
MARIEWe benefited from selling commercial sponsorships, all that stuff. How do you all decide which corporate sponsorships are OK and which ones cross over into commercials? And do you borrow any money-making ideas from the commercial side of radio?
KNELLGood questions. There's three or four questions, I think, in there. But the quick answer is the Federal Communications Commission actually has limits that are based on federal statute about underwriting credits that they are not allowed to be promotional. They're not allowed to be calls to action. And so that's why they will be rather -- they will be more factual statements about an underwriter, and that's the way they come out and they're regulated.
REHMAren't they also limited in...
KNELLTo 10 seconds or 15 seconds...
REHMFifteen seconds. Yeah.
KNELL...depending -- televisions are little longer, but radio's 10 or 15 seconds. So that's how that happens. And then, you know, in terms of which are appropriate and which are inappropriate, this is a question of a perception of bias.
KNELLAnd you have to be very careful both in any kind of an advocacy organization on a nonprofit side or a foundation, as well as on the corporate side so that people and listeners cannot draw any sort of conclusion that an underwriter, be it a nonprofit or a for-profit organization, is influencing the editorial content of a given story on the energy or environment or whatever the issues are. And we are very careful about that. So that's where that comes from.
REHMGary Knell, president and CEO of NPR, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now to Boss, Mo. Good morning, Kim.
KIMGood morning, Diane, Gary. Thank you so much.
KIMI live in a certifiably technologically approved denied area, and so Fox News and NPR are my two choices. And I was kind of saddened over the past few years because I saw some of the really serious issues, such as NDAA, lack of, you know, public surveillance, the international warfare, such as drones, such as assassination of world leaders, that there was very little difference between Fox and NPR other than in a tone of voice.
KIMOne was -- it was kind of like nice cop, mean cop. So I'm begging Gary to permit more alternative viewpoints because I think that there's been a mass one-on-one re-education of this nation.
KNELLWell, I appreciate, Kim, your points. And, you know, we're trying out there to be as accurate, fact-checked news as we possibly can, that a source is accurate, whether it's covering drones in Pakistan or whether it's covering other major global issues. So we're going to go -- we're not copying any other entity on the left or the right. We're going to where the news is, and we're going to follow our leads and investigate them and put out every single day what we think are the important coverage areas that Americans need to hear.
REHMAnnie in Cleveland, Ohio, emails, "How many programs are available that are African-American oriented?"
KNELLWell, we are -- specific African-American-oriented programs, it's hard to identify that as such. I mean, we have programs that are attempting to reach more diverse audiences like "Tell Me More" with Michel Martin, which is a terrific show. And we have a show called "Snap Judgment" with an amazing talent in Glynn Washington out of Oakland, Calif.
KNELLAnd this is an area that I am very determined to grow. We need to reach more diverse audiences racially and ethnically, especially as America's landscape changes demographically. This is very important to me personally, and we plan to grow those efforts going forward.
REHMWhat do you hope to accomplish in your tenure at NPR, however long it might be, Gary?
KNELLWell, you know, as someone said to me, this job sometimes has the, you know, the job tenure of the president of Afghanistan. It's a bit of a hot seat. I didn't take it necessarily for job security. But I took it, Diane, because I believe deeply in the need for a civic civil dialogue in the country and for people like callers here having a place to air views and in talking to people of importance in this country and around the world.
KNELLAnd I hope the one thing I can build is an economically sustainable platform for public radio for many years to come. It's a very complex, very turbulent sea of -- for economics of news right now, in the economics of media in general. It's not unique to public broadcasting. I'm hoping to bring my 30 years of experience in media, both commercial and noncommercial, to bear to make a difference.
REHMGary Knell, president and CEO of NPR. Gary, good luck to you.
KNELLSo great to be here, Diane. Thank you.
REHMThank you. And thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn, and the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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