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NPR CEO Ken Stern Resigns Abruptly; Differences Over Digital Media Part of It

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imageKen Stern, the CEO of National Public Radio, has abruptly resigned, apparently over clashes on NPR’s digital media startegy. Stern, who spoke at our EconSM conference last year, was with NPR for 10 years and was appointed the CEO in Sep. 2006, and had pushed for more digital media outlets and distribution for the public broadcasting firm, which as this WaPo story says, “often riled station managers, who saw them coming at the expense of serving the hundreds of public stations that pay dues annually to NPR.”

Dennis L. Haarsager, an avid tech blogger and chairman of the board of NPR, has taken over as CEO on an interim basis, while the board conducts a search for a permanent replacement. By coincidence, Dennis was a moderator of a panel I spoke on two weeks ago at the Public Media Conference 2008, in LA.

NPR’s own story: “One source familiar with the situation said Stern was leaving because of board criticism over his management style. Another source said the board concluded Stern was not the right person to lead a creative media company forward. A third source said…that Stern had never articulated how NPR’s hundreds of member stations would fit into [the] multi-media future.” Of course, NPR’s clashes with member stations on digital media strategy are not a secret…I have written about them in the past. (And yet another source tells us of being told Stern wanted to get NPR into TV and cable in a big way and that’s what had the station riled.)

LA Observed has the staff memo from Haarsager, who outlines his role going ahead.

Update: I just spoke to Haarsager, who disputed the version that this change had much to do with any specific clashes over the digital media strategy…he said the reasons were “multi-dimensional”. He said that while he has an appreciation for technology and the changing consumer habits (this is what he blogs about everyday), NPR is not about digital platforms, it is about the journalism. He did say the hunt for a new CEO may take a while, and could stretch as much as a year…

He also said that the change was not as abrupt as people are making it out to be: the board asked him to be the interim CEO on Feb. 28 after a lot of consideration, and he thought about it for a week, and then agreed to come on board.

Staci adds: Also today, in another coincidence, CBS (NYSE: CBS) vet Dick Meyer told readers of his online column that he was leaving for NPR. He didn’t offer details there but we can tell you Meyer has signed on as editorial director for digital media, effective April 7. Meyer, at CBS for 23 years, most recently has been the editorial director of His move comes after severe cuts at, which lost roughly 30 percent of its already small staff late last year. The cuts were seen internally by some as an indication that CBS was not committed to its online news site; we were told then that some believed CBS Interactive head Quincy Smith wanted to do away with the site altogether — or, at least, its staff.