Under the presidency of Vivian Schiller, NPR has found itself dealing with a series of gaffes that have added up to a large and ongoing public relations mess.
Schiller came to NPR two years ago from NYTimes.com, and seemed like a good fit at first. But from the member stations' point of view, she seemed less assured when it came to balancing the complexities of a membership organization. She may have paid lip service to the role of the customers - in this case, the 700 + stations that air NPR content and who pay program fees and membership dues. But the feeling outside of Washington, DC was that she just didn't get just how nuanced, complex and important that station relationship can be.
And inside the news organization with many strong and competing cultures (aka the "tribes"), Schiller was also seen as someone who valued the NPR website (which is excellent, by the way) over the program and radio elements.
Combine all that with two high profile dismissals that evoked the third rail of race: the highly regarded trainer/producer Doug Mitchell was laid off and commentator Juan Williams was summarily fired for statements he made on Fox...it seemed only a matter of time before Schiller would run out of room and the NPR board would run out of patience. VP of News Ellen Weiss was fired after the Juan Williams fiasco and some at NPR felt that she took the fall for a decision made up the line.
Recent threats of budget cuts to public broadcasting have had the member stations openly worried that the NPR president should have done more to dissuade the cutters in Congress.
The last straw came when the head of fund raising, Ron Schiller (no relation) was punked by James O'Keefe in a case of truly malicious, conservative entrapment. R. Schiller was invited to lunch with members of a purported Muslim foundation offering NPR a $5 million grant (which was never accepted).
At one point, Schiller "took off his NPR hat" and then went to town on Tea Party conservatives, Jews in the media and other bits of red meat so dear to conservative opponents of NPR. An example of hubris and foolishness (doesn't anyone at NPR perform some due diligence on prospective donors?) on his part. He paid the price by being fired twice in one week - once from NPR and then from the Aspen Institute which originally agreed to take him off NPR's hands.
When Schiller's table talk was posted on Youtube yesterday, the NPR Board fired Vivian Schiller today. Presumably the previous embarrassments didn't help. Despite all these recent p.r. disasters, NPR's audience continues to grow.
Under the leadership of Kirstine Stewart, the recently appointed head of CBC Radio, Television and Online, the managerial changes concentrate on categories like sports on which there will be heavy emphasis. The memo mentions "commissioned and scripted programming," "studio and unscripted programming," and other categories that will likely sound odd to non-CBC-ers as examples of a large management structure that seem to pay less attention to product and more to process.
It's too soon to say whether these changes will work at the CBC. The public broadcaster has had some successes with its entertainment shows but on the information side, the ratings have been poor. CBC Radio still does well, but resources have been shifted to help out the priorities in television and radio staffers are anxious (as usual) about the changes.
The CBC is also a large and complicated operation also with many warring tribes. Stewart will have her work cut out for her.
Some initial observations: like NPR, CBC has its political opponents also on the right and who also believe that public funding of public broadcasting is inherently wasteful. For the CBC to proffer a large and somewhat obscure managerial structure at a time when impressions are also important, this could appear to be the act of someone with little regard for appearances.
The role of news and information at the CBC seems clearly to be in decline. Or at least less of a priority than in years past.
Even more astonishing is the complete absence of any mention of the recently revamped CBC website which now looks extremely good. But in the Stewart document, CBC’s online strategy is very hard to decipher. "Inside the CBC," the official blog, has gone silent for two months, with no explanation. CBC.ca has no links to Facebook, Twitter, etc., making it one of the few information web sites in the world that doesn't.
As someone who follows these things observed, "Blogs and social media represent open, two-way communication but CBC seems more comfortable behind cloistered walls, like a true state broadcaster."