How NPR's CEO was Dumped

Last Updated Mar 7, 2008 3:10 PM EST

Insiders say that National Public Radio (NPR)'s CEO Ken Stern lost his job yesterday in a shockingly abrupt fashion.

My sources say that Board Chair Dennis Haarsager simply walked into Stern's office, fired him and told him that it was time for him "to leave the building."

NPR reporters David Folkenflik and Frank Langfitt confirm that Stern was forced out after only 18 months in the job.

Stern had moved aggressively to stabilize the finances at the chronically troubled network, and had doubled its audience to 26 million listeners a week.

He also had built an endowment of more than $300 million, which has allowed NPR to open more bureaus here and overseas, as well as to launch several new programs.

Perhaps most significantly, Stern took highly visible strides to lead the network into digital ventures, to the point that NPR is now a leader in both music and news podcasts.

Sources say Stern's decisions created a growing sense of anxiety and resentment at some of the network's major member stations, like WNYC in New York and WBEZ in Chicago.

Member stations depend on popular shows like Morning Edition to solicit donations.

Therefore, as people can increasingly access programming via NPR's web site or via their cell phones, local station officials worry that they may lose the loyal base that contributes to their annual pledge drives.

This controversy has been raging for years inside the NPR system (including when I worked there in the mid-Nineties.) Some of the same technological forces that are driving local newspapers out of business are at work with local radio outlets.

These local stations could be developing strong local programming that would appeal to their audiences, but many allowed themselves to become over-dependent on NPR instead.

Stern apparently rubbed at least some of the member station representatives the wrong way.

"Ken didn't treat (our) stations like clients," one source told me,"(but) that's what we are."

Haarsager announced that he will serve as interim CEO while NPR conducts a national search for Stern's replacement.

  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital,, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.