NPR President Knell leaving network for National Geographic Society

Gary Knell plans to leave his post as NPR's president and CEO to assume a role with the same titles at the National Geographic Society, the network announced in a press release Monday. He took his current post in 2011.

NPR reporter David Folkenflik says on Twitter that Knell's move surprised the network's "largely supportive board" and that NPR staffers reacted "with widespread astonishment" at the news. Knell is NPR's sixth CEO in the past eight years, Folkenflik notes.

National Geographic's release says its current president and CEO, John M. Fahey, will be chairman of the board after Knell starts.

"I was approached by the organization recently and offered an opportunity that, after discussions with my family, I could not turn down," Knell writes in a letter to NPR staffers.

Speaking about his vision for NPR last year, Knell said he planned to "eliminate these distinctions" between audio and digital journalists "Because, really, the audience doesn’t view news that way anymore.”

Knell took a pay cut from his previous role as president and CEO of Sesame Workshop when he joined NPR, Paul Farhi reported at the time:

According to NPR, he earned $684,144 at Sesame Workshop plus $62,000 in additional compensation in 2009, the last year public records were available. NPR did not disclose his salary but said it is in line with Schiller’s compensation; she received a base salary of $450,000 and a bonus of $125,000 in May 2010.

As WHYY reporter Zack Seward noted on Twitter, Fahey made $1.4 million in 2011, according to NatGeo's IRS form 990 for that year, which I've uploaded here.

Full release:

August 19, 2013; Washington, D.C. – The Board of Directors of NPR announced today that it has been informed by President and Chief Executive Officer Gary E. Knell that he will leave this fall to become President and CEO of the National Geographic Society. Knell will remain with NPR until then to work with the Board to ensure a smooth transition as it launches a search for his successor.

“Gary and the management team have worked effectively to strengthen NPR as a world-class media organization, technological innovator and industry leader,” said Kit Jensen, Chair of the Board. “NPR has built a firm foundation for providing the highest quality journalism and programming. We will be working closely with Gary over the next few months, and deeply appreciate the lasting impact he has made.”

In a letter to employees, Knell expressed confidence that the team at NPR is charting “an ambitious path” for the organization’s future and that he had decided to accept the unsolicited offer to become chief executive officer at National Geographic following “a great deal of personal reflection.’’

“NPR is and will always be a beacon of journalistic integrity, commitment and courage,” Knell said. “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to work with you.”

Knell became President and CEO of NPR in 2011. He and the leadership team have been developing a strategic plan to strengthen the organization by engaging NPR’s extensive network of Member Stations, generating high-quality cross-platform journalism and programming, finding new sources of philanthropic and corporate underwriting support, and attracting new audiences.

NPR is one of the nation’s premier news organizations. Since 2012, the organization has won more than twenty-five industry awards, including two George Foster Peabody Awards and two Gracie Awards.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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