NPR to cut staff 10 percent, names SoCal businessman interim CEO

Paul Haaga

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Paul Haaga, president of the board of trustees of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, spoke during a press conference in front of the newly restored 1913 building during a media preview of the building and the new "Age of Mammals" exhibition, July 8, 2010 in Los Angeles. National Public Radio announced Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, that Haaga would take over as interim CEO following news that current chief Gary Knell would be leaving for National Geographic Magazine.

NPR on Friday announced that it will offer voluntary buyouts to reduce its staff, estimated at roughly 840 people, by 10 percent in an effort to balance its budget by the 2015 fiscal year and reorient the network to boost revenue and focus more heavily on digital content.

NPR also announced that it has named Southern California businessman Paul Haaga Jr. — a member of NPR's board and former chairman of the L.A.-based investment firm Capital Research and Management Co. — as its new interim chief executive officer, replacing Gary Knell, who is leaving his position after two years to become CEO of National Geographic.

RELATED: Russ Stanton on NPR cuts and how they will affect KPCC

Haaga, 64, starts Sept. 30 and will help the NPR board find a permanent CEO.

Details of the buyout plan were not released, but an NPR spokesperson told KPCC that staff members will be informed by Sept. 20.

Haaga, a La Cañada Flintridge resident, replaces Gary Knell, who is leaving his position after two years to become CEO of National Geographic. Knell will continue to serve as an advisor to Haaga until Dec. 31.

The staff reduction plan is part of a larger effort by NPR to have a balanced budget in fiscal year 2015 by lowering its expenses and making investments into the network's digital future and "revenue generating initiatives," NPR board chair Kit Jensen and Knell said in a joint statement. NPR.org reported additional details from the statement:

... the board has approved a FY 2014 budget that is rooted in a long-term strategic roadmap that eliminates NPR's operating deficit within the next two years while giving NPR the flexibility to make strategic investments in high quality journalism, programming, digital innovation, and revenue-building initiatives. The budget we approved includes operating and investment revenues of $178.1 million, expenses of $183 million, and an operating cash deficit of $6.1 million, or 3 percent of revenues.

A representative of NPR said no one would be available for interviews Friday.

Challenging time for NPR

Haaga is joining NPR’s helm at a challenging time for public radio, which is facing pressure to adapt to smart phones and tablets and engage a younger, more diverse audience.

The outgoing CEO, Knell, has been credited for bringing stability back to NPR. Knell arrived after NPR’s CEO Vivian Schiller resigned, following the firings of NPR fundraising executive Ron Schiller, who had been secretly taped criticizing the Tea Party, and NPR news analyst Juan Williams, who was ousted over comments he made about Muslims.

Both Jensen and Knell said in an email on Friday that Haaga is "intimately familiar" with the organization as vice chair of the board and chair of the finance committee. 

"He is a passionate supporter of our journalism and programming and a skilled and effective business leader who understands complex organizations such as ours," Jensen and Knell wrote.

Haaga, a registered Republican, has been active in philanthropy in Southern California. He is a Huntington Library trustee and president of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History’s board of trustees.

Haaga received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Princeton University, an MBA from Wharton School and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

He spent the first part of his career in law. From 1974 to 1977, he was a senior attorney with the Securities and Exchange Commission’s investment management division. After that, he was a partner at a Washington law firm now known as Dechert.

Haaga and his wife, Heather, have two children, Paul III and Blythe.

In a bio on the SEC’s website, Haaga said he ran 21 marathons and coached 30 youth soccer and basketball teams “back when his knees still worked.” He has also, it turns out, had a tiny dinosaur named after him.

What do these changes mean for KPCC? Tune in to AirTalk on 89.3 today at 11 a.m. for more, and check back here for more details.

This story has been updated.

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