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NPR names head of Sesame Workshop, Gary Knell, as new President and CEO



gary-knell-npr-small.jpgOne down, and two to go.

That's the score after National Public Radio on Sunday announced Sesame Workshop head Gary Knell as its new president and CEO, filling one of three high profile executive positions which have been open for months.

With a more than 20-year tenure at the company which produces PBS' classic children's education series Sesame Street, Knell has experience leading a huge company, time spent guiding a large organization innovating in new media, lots of experience in the unique environment of public broadcasting and a background in the largely inoffensive world of children's TV programming -- all attributes likely attractive to NPR's board.

(Full disclosure: I provide commentaries to NPR on TV issues as a freelancer.)

NPR saw its last president Vivian Schiller, resign under pressure after secretly-recorded video surfaced showing the outlet's head of fundraising disparaging members of the tea party movement; their head of fundraising also left the company.

Schiller had already weathered an explosive public controversy after the firing of analyst Juan Williams in October; NPR's head of news, Ellen Weiss, resigned in January after the NPR board released a report on Williams' ouster recommending changes to procedures.

First on Knell's list, besides learning a new office after 10 years, has to be filling the senior vice president positions over fundraising and news  -- vital to planning future strategies for an outlet known for its innovations in new media and newsgathering.

Below is NPR's release -- which hit my inbox at 5:30 p.m. Sunday night. Interesting timing.

gary-knell-sesame.jpgOctober 2, 2011; Washington, D.C. – Gary E. Knell, the longtime President and CEO of Sesame Workshop, will become President and CEO of NPR, Board of Directors Chairman Dave Edwards announced today.

“Gary is an extraordinary leader with extensive experience in public media, programming and education,” Edwards said.  “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.”

“He has the skills, experience, talent and vision to lead NPR into an even more dynamic future, while maintaining its commitment to serve Member stations and the public,” Edwards added. “That’s why, after an in-depth and collaborative search, the Board unanimously chose Gary.”

“I’m thrilled to join NPR,” Knell said. “Over the past 40 years, it’s grown from an inspired idea to one of the world’s most respected and leading providers of news, music and cultural programming – both on the air and across ever-expanding digital platforms. This is media with a deeply held mission, compelling history and boundless future. Simply put: it’s journalism at its best.  What an opportunity to work with the incredibly talented staff here, and to partner with stations, as we continue to innovate, expand civil dialogue and set the standard for media.”

Knell, whose career in public broadcasting spans nearly three decades, will join NPR on December 1. He became CEO of Sesame Workshop – a collaborative, multimedia organization that maximizes the educational power of media to help children and families reach their highest potential – in 2000. He first joined Sesame in 1989, and became COO in 1998, and CEO in 2000. During his tenure, the organization has expanded its revenue base, audience and global recognition. Knell also has been instrumental in focusing the organization on Sesame Street’s worldwide mission, including the creation of groundbreaking co-productions in South Africa, India, Northern Ireland and Egypt.

Knell was also managing director of Manager Media International, a print and multimedia publishing company based in Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Singapore. He served as senior vice president and 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.

Knell is presently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, serves as a director of the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, is on the board of governors of the National Geographic Education Foundation, and is a board member of AARP Services, Inc., the Jacob Burns Film Center and Save the Children.

He is a longtime public radio listener and supporter, and a member of three NPR stations: WNYC New York, KPLU Seattle, and WFUV New York, where he also serves on the advisory board.

Knell joins NPR at a time of tremendous growth and potential for the organization, and for all of public radio. NPR’s ambitious expansion of its foreign and investigative coverage resulted in tireless reporting on the Arab Spring, and dozens of enterprising investigations into mine safety, national security, assault on college campuses, and health care for the military. As investments in local media continue to shrink or disappear altogether, NPR is leading multiple station collaborations to build the reporting capacity of public radio across all platforms at both the national and local level.

NPR was assisted by the executive search consulting firm Spencer Stuart on this appointment.


[Last modified: Monday, October 3, 2011 7:39am]


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