Jun 1, 2011

Alicia Shepard signs off as NPR Ombudsman

In her last column as NPR Ombudsman, Alicia Shepard credited NPR for demonstrating a commitment to transparency and accountability by employing a journalist as an internal critic of its news coverage.

"They say this is the loneliest job in the newsroom – the public thinks you are a shill for NPR and NPR employees think you are an internal affairs investigative unit," she wrote. "Often I've felt a bit like a security guard at a private party. Just my presence – and fear of being named in a column – may help to keep folks working hard to live up to the ethics and journalism standards that NPR has established."

Since taking the job in 2008, Shepard has critiqued NPR's journalism during a period of audience growth, service expansion, and the upper-management upheaval sparked by the October 2010 firing of news analyst Juan Williams.

Her biggest regret from her tenure as Ombudsman, Shepard told Columbia Journalism Review in a recent Q&A, was not pushing NPR's leadership harder to address the conflicts created by Juan Williams' dual roles as an NPR analyst and Fox News pundit:

"I saw the value of Juan Williams to NPR, but it just seemed that there was never a clear understanding of what his role was. By October of 2010, I felt that it really had become an untenable situation and difficult for him to straddle the role of being more of a provocateur on Fox and a straight news analyst on NPR."

Vivian Schiller may be headed to NBC

NBC News reportedly plans to hire former NPR President Vivian Schiller to lead its digital division. "People familiar with the company say Schiller, who once ran the New York Times’ Web site, will report to NBC News chief Steve Capus," Peter Kafka reports for All Things Digital.

Kling still on track to raise $5 million for pubradio reporters

After Bill Kling retires on July 1 from atop Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media in St. Paul, he "plans to take his show on the road and use his influence to build up public radio stations across America," according to the City Pages in Minneapolis.

Kling reiterated to the paper his plans to raise $5 million a year for five years, to be used by four public radio stations (Chicago's WBEZ, New York's WYNC, and KPCC in southern California) to hire more reporters (Current, Oct. 18, 2010). Another $5 million per year will be donated to the greater public radio system. "Ultimately, Kling hopes to take on all the top public radio markets in the country," the paper notes.

"You can have all the blogs, all the Huffington Posts, and Twitter feeds, and any other way of distributing content," Kling says. "But if you don't have the content, none of it's worth anything. That comes from reporters, which I believe we have to step up."

WTVI's survivial in danger if it keeps "bleeding money," its president says

WTVI, the PBS affiliate in Charlotte, N.C., is asking Mecklenburg County commissioners to restore a total of $1 million in funding that was cut in recent years, reports WFAE-FM. There's no operating money for WTVI in the county budget, but the station gets help paying for equipment and studio space as well as about $100,000 to televise commission meetings. WTVI President Elsie Garner says the station won't go dark immediately if the county refuses her funding request, at least "not in one year. But if you keep bleeding money, after awhile, yeah that's the logical thing."

Garner denied to Current any rumors that WTVI may be considering dropping from PBS membership. "Our board is still committed to the PBS brand," she says. "Otherwise, we’re still out there providing service and programming to the community and waiting for better days ahead!"

WTVI has routinely received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Mecklenburg County to cover salaries, equipment maintenance and program costs. But last year, commissioners determined funding for WTVI was not part of the county's core mission. And fundraising is falling. So WTVI cut half the staff positions, froze salaries and ended its subscription to a ratings service. Garner says without a financial boost, one of the WTVI's three HD channels may go away, along with some popular PBS programs on the station main channel. WTVI has an annual budget of about $3 million.

Newscaster Ann Taylor leaving NPR on June 30 after 21 years

Ann Taylor, the bottom-of-the-hour news voice on NPR's All Things Considered, is leaving after 21 years with the network. In a memo to staff, Managing Editor David Sweeney and Robert Garcia, newscast executive producer, say Taylor has anchored the spots "with great clarity of writing and authority of delivery." The memo says Taylor wants to stop commuting weekly to Washington from New York, and her last day will be June 30. "Ann is one of the most gracious professionals both of us have had the honor of working with," it says. "She’s unflappable on the air and is one of the most hard-working and adaptable broadcasters. Away from the microphone, Ann also has a most wicked and wonderful sense of humor. While Ann will be in New York, she will return to our air on occasion to fill-in. We’re very sorry to lose her, but she can always call NPR home."