NPR's Vivian Schiller talks about state of public media at USC

Vivian Schiller, the former president of NPR, speaks at USC on the state of public media on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010.
Vivian Schiller, the former president of NPR, speaks at USC on the state of public media on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010.
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NPR’s President Vivian Schiller offered her thoughts on the state of public media yesterday to students at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. Her visit coincided with congressional Republicans’ push to de-fund NPR and other organizations that get federal money from the Corporation from Public Broadcasting.

Only a few minutes into her speech, Schiller defended using federal money to help pay for NPR.

"It is clear, especially today, that public broadcasting is going to be mightily challenged to make its case for continued federal funding in this current political atmosphere," she said. "But yet NPR and public radio makes it’s case every day on air and online. And that it perhaps the most important room for hearing. And I guess that means that NPR and public radio has as many as 40 million followers when you add it all up, and 40 million potential advocates."

Annenberg School Dean Ernest Wilson – who’s on the board for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting – was in the audience. The taxpayer-funded corporation directs federal money to NPR, PBS and their affiliate stations. Wilson said he and other board members plan to meet with members of Congress to explain their side of the story.

He said they're also trying to reach out the public, and let them know about the value of public service media.

After her speech, Schiller briefly fielded questions from the audience. Many wanted to know how NPR would do to reach out to demographic groups beyond the core public radio audience. A few asked about the network’s dismissal of veteran news analyst Juan Williams over remarks he’d made on the Fox News network. That firing – and Fox’s subsequent hiring of Williams – caused plenty of chatter among liberal and conservative commentators.

"I think we didn’t handle the termination of his contract very well," said Schiller. "It happened over the phone, not in person, and we’re doing a review now that will help us understand that process and which we absolutely will learn from."

Vivian Schiller became NPR’s chief executive not quite two years ago. She arrived at the network after heading the New York Times’ online operation.

Although Democrats yesterday defeated a bill to de-fund NPR, many Republican lawmakers have said they’ll raise the topic again when the GOP gains control of the House in January.