Alicia C. Shepard
Feature — March / April 2010
NPR Amps Up
Can Vivian Schiller build a journalism juggernaut?
By Jill Drew
If I were writing this story for All Things Considered, I might open with some audio: the sound of applause. The clapping would come from hundreds of employees gathered for an all-staff meeting at National Public Radio's downtown Washington headquarters in December, as they acknowledged the tenor being set by Vivian Schiller in her first year as NPR's president and chief executive. Staff members were thanking Schiller for leading them out of the mess they had been in a year earlier, when they had gathered in the same auditorium. At that 2008 meeting, an interim chief executive and his number two had perched nervously on stools in front of the room, shocking the staff with announcements that they were canceling two NPR-produced shows and firing sixty-four people, 7 percent of the staff, in order to deal with a projected $23 million budget gap torn open by the recession. These were the first budget-related mass layoffs to hit NPR since the early 1980s.
It wasn't just that the news was bad. The executives' impersonal and awkward manner of delivery—one fiddled with his BlackBerry while the other talked, a staff member recalls—left other managers queasy and the staff reeling. NPR's nonprofit status had not protected it from the cataclysm that was decimating commercial media, and the place felt rudderless in the storm, the NPR board having ousted the previous chief executive nine months earlier after his aggressive maneuvers had alienated many. READ MORE