Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a few brands & media properties that I truly love and for which I have huge loyalty. Virgin America. Uber. USAA. Jon Stewart. Fareed Zakaria. David Brooks.
NPR has been a part of my life for 25 years. As a news junkie and seeker of information, I’m that guy who always has his car tuned to KPCC everyday to get my daily dose of NPR. I know that everybody has their particular politics and I’m certainly not trying to espouse one point-of-view over the other in this post. But I find NPR and BBC to be some of the most thoughtful, unbiased and far-reaching (in topics) sources of mass-reach information that exist.
On road trips my wife fires up the app on her iPhone so we can stream Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Fresh Air or MarketPlace. One weekends sometimes I’ll zone out to “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell me” and laugh along. The shows are smart, clean, intellectual and thoughtful.
Car radio is a pure pleasure to me because it’s 25 minutes of unfettered thinking and listening time and a chance to make sure I know about the world around me before the daily grind of work or the evening onslaught of kids and family responsibilities.
At times I worry about NPR because I’m guessing the audience is aging alongside me. Technology is disrupting all types of media and talk radio will be no exception. In-car technologies for streaming will likely erode the channel and day-part stronghold that the major shows have always had and young people are tuning into SoundCloud, YouTube, Spotify and other sources that battle for “share of mind.” Staying relevant will require leadership.
And of course there are virulent debates about whether publicly funded media should exist at all. I fall firmly on the side of supporting public funds for quality, less-biased, programming. Unbiased of course doesn’t exist since we all have biases. But I’ve seen first hand when I lived in the UK how great public funding of news can be with The Beeb. And in a world where media seems to be splintering into Left & Right, I for one love that there is a source that stands for trying to avoid either. But clearly funding for NPR will required leadership.
As a fan of NPR and as somebody who thinks about its future I can’t tell you how please I was this week to learn that my friend Jarl Mohn had taken the job of becoming the new CEO of NPR.
Jarl has a legendary history in media. He started as an on-air radio personality and was known as Lee Masters for many years. He was CEO of E!, EVP of MTV, President of Liberty Digital and on the boards of CNET, Scripps, comScore, Riot Games and Rubicon Project to name a few. For those in the know, Jarl has been a savvy angel investor and a mentor to many young tech founders (and a few of us VCs as well).
Every time I considered a major investment in media: Radio or online video – I called to get Jarl’s no-holds-barred views. He understands audiences, programming and distribution as well as funding and deal-making.
One funny incident I had … I never call in to radio talk shows. But there was a topic on my local NPR station, KPCC, that was about internships. The host was interviewing somebody who was equating unpaid or low-paid internships with oppression of workers rights and shouldn’t be allowed. What a load of rubbish. So I called in and took the other side of that debate referring to myself solely as “Mark” and I think the host mentioned that I was an investor.
After it aired I got an immediate call from Jarl to ask if it was me. Ha! I was certain that nobody had heard me and even more certain nobody would know it was me. But Jarl was all over it. What I didn’t know at the time was that Jarl was a major benefactor to public radio and had donated heavily to KPCC , which now broadcasts from the Mohn Broadcasting Center. Clever me had never put two-and-two together. When I told him that I had a KPCC mug on my desk with one of my favorite slogans, “No Rant, No Slant” he couldn’t believe that. He told me he was the person who came up with their catch phrase.
I’m 90% over-the-moon happy that Jarl is taking this job (I’m certain it truly is public service) because I know of nobody better positioned to help shepherd NPR into the future and deal with its funding, generational and technical challenges that every media company faces. I’m 10% sorry to see Jarl spend less time in Los Angeles. Breakfasts and drinks with Jarl have truly been a highlight of my seven years of living here.
I wish him well in his new endeavors and stand ready to help in any way I can. I hope you will, too.
With Jarl at NPR and my uber-experienced friend Ira Rubenstein taking over as GM of Digital at PBS I feel great about the future of public media and grateful that these talented execs are taking on these challenges for the benefit of us all.