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NPR’s CEO Out By “Mutual Agreement”

0307kenstern.jpgYou see that face? It’s NPR’s CEO Ken Stern — who, we just found out, is leaving NPR “by mutual agreement” with the network’s board. Dennis Haarsager will be serving as interim CEO.

But why did Stern leave? Most observers think clashes over digital media led to his departure. Not just observers; NPR employees too. Including (of course) All Things Considered:

One source familiar with the situation said Stern was leaving because of board criticism over his management style. Another source said the board concluded Stern was not the right person to lead a creative media company forward. [...] A third source said — though — that Stern had never articulated how NPR’s hundreds of member stations would fit into that multi-media future.

And after the jump, Haarsager’s memo.


Today the NPR Board of Directors is announcing that Ken Stern will be leaving NPR by mutual agreement. Ken has served at NPR for 10 years, as Chief Operating Officer and more recently, Chief Executive Officer. The full Board has asked me to serve as interim CEO until we find a permanent replacement. Howard Stevenson, currently the Board’s Vice Chair, will perform the duties of Board Chairman. NPR President Kevin Klose will continue in his current position, which he has held since December 1998.

The Board is grateful for the many contributions Ken has made to National Public Radio. With the support of the exceptional staff, Ken was instrumental in helping turn around NPR’s financial health and in its multi-year expansion of NPR News that significantly increased the number of staff, foreign and domestic bureaus and areas of coverage. With the extensive news programming he helped to establish – and a doubling of the public radio system’s audience over the last seven years from 13 million to 26 million weekly listeners – we feel we are well positioned to gain even more listeners and are very excited about our prospects for the future.

We are pleased about the announcement yesterday that we have acquired a well-situated site for our new headquarters — which will include public space for live shows and events. This much needed building should become a reality within a few years and will likely become a national tourist attraction for public radio fans across the country and web users worldwide.

With our excellent programming in place, we will be seeking a new leader who can take NPR to the next level and ensure that we reach our full potential. We will be retaining a national search firm and we are committed to identifying a CEO who also recognizes the public radio mission and exceeds the highest standards of public service in journalism and cultural expression. And in keeping with our culture and approach, we will be looking for a team builder who can harness the incredible talent and leadership skills of all individuals in our organization to achieve our goals and meet the changing needs of our expanding audiences on multiple platforms.

As mentioned above, the full Board of NPR has asked me to take on the day-to-day duties of the CEO position until we have completed the national search. For those of you who don’t know me, I have served on NPR’s Board of Directors since 2005 and as Chairman since 2007. I also served previously on a number of national boards in public broadcasting, including the Station Resource Group, PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) and APTS (America’s Public Television Service). Currently I am Associate Vice President and General Manager of Educational and Public Media at Washington State University, and, before that, was State Coordinator for Idaho Public Broadcasting. I am honored to have this association with NPR and am committed to seeing that we find the right person to lead the organization forward.

At this time, we have tentatively scheduled an all-staff meeting at 1:00 PM (ET) to discuss this further. I will meet with all of you over the coming weeks and hope you will feel free to communicate with me about ways to improve National Public Radio. I value your knowledge and experience and am open to exchanges of ideas, and believe that together we can find a way to ensure that distinguished ideas get implemented. I’m confident that by working together we can make certain that our best years are ahead. I’m committed to being a hands-on CEO, and will be here in Washington, DC today and tomorrow for the NPR Foundation meeting, and again next week for PRIMA and the membership meeting. I intend to start operating out of 635 Massachusetts Avenue as much as possible during March, and will be here full time starting the first week in April. I am confident in the team and I look forward to working with all of you.

For additional details on today’s announcement, please see the press release that follows that we will issue later this afternoon.

Thank you for dedication and commitment to National Public Radio.

Dennis Haarsager

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