Friday, January 28, 2011

NPR Intrigue: Review of Leadership

Fascinating behind-the-scenes account

Schiller, Weiss
When Vivian Schiller became NPR's chief executive in early 2009, she knew enough to know that she didn't know very much about producing radio news. For that, Schiller, who formerly headed the New York Times' cable and digital businesses, relied on Ellen Weiss, NPR's top news executive. A savvy veteran, Weiss had worked her way up NPR's ranks from the bottom, spending her entire 29-year career at the organization.

By all accounts, the two women worked well together, write Paul Farhi at  While Schiller devoted her attention to reorganizing NPR's management and successfully closing a budget gap, Weiss concentrated on building audiences for NPR's audio programs and online news.

And then, all at once, the relationship was no more. On Jan. 4, nearly three months after Weiss had made a fateful phone call to fire analyst Juan Williams for controversial comments he made on a Fox News Channel program, Schiller met with Weiss and made a stunning demand: Resign or be fired. Two days later, NPR announced, without elaboration, that Weiss had quit.

The resignation stupefied staffers at NPR; many believed that Weiss had been pushed out to appease critics livid about the firing of Williams. Williams's firing had reignited Republican calls to eliminate federal funding for NPR, PBS and their affiliated stations. Insiders also linked Weiss's fate to a bad moment for Schiller: Weiss's departure came on the same day that NPR announced that its board of directors had voted to sanction Schiller for the Williams debacle by stripping her of her 2010 bonus.

Read more here.

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