Gary Knell has his work cut out for him as he takes the helm as NPR's new CEO.
Knell started the new job on Thursday. He assumes the post after a tough year for the network: executive Ellen Weiss lost her job in January over the network's controversial firing of Juan Williams, and CEO Vivian Schiller resigned in March after a scandal involving an NPR fundraising executive's comments during a hidden-camera sting.
When Knell got the job in October, he promised to "depoliticize" the public radio debate. On Thursday, he sat down with Neal Conan on "Talk of the Nation" to answer some critical questions about the network, specifically its reliance on public funding, the possibility of privatizing NPR, and plans to improve diversity.
Knell defended the necessity of public funding, calling it "an important leg" of the network's finances. He acknowledged that the network could no longer take public funding for granted, and promised that it would "work like heck" to make a better case for it in Congress.
He also shot down the idea of NPR becoming for-profit -- which some have championed as a way of getting around public funding. He pointed to non-profit enterprises like Sesame Street and the BBC that have tapped into unique funding opportunities, and said that NPR would try to do the same.
He hinted at future plans to diversify NPR's audience, which has long been a point of criticism for the network. He said, "We shouldn't rule out second-language programming - Spanish among them, Mandarin and other programming." He emphasized improving digital platforms to reach out to younger listeners as well.
"It's really about fairness and accuracy and honesty in reporting so that our audience can make up their own minds and decide which issues they want to advocate on," he said. "That's really the role of public radio."