New NHPR CEO: 'Remembering The Mission' Will Be Key To Station's Success

Oct 30, 2019

Credit Courtesy of WNYC

NHPR's new CEO Jim Schachter takes over this month, succeeding the station's former chief executive Betsy Gardella, who resigned abruptly last October. 

Schachter recently held the top news executive position at WNYC, the country's largest public media station. He also spent nearly 17 years at The New York Times, where he held the position of associate managing editor. 

He's been at NHPR for a couple of weeks now, Morning Edition's Rick Ganley invited him in to the studio to learn more, starting with what made him interested in the job.  

Note: The following transcript was machine generated and may contain errors.

Jim Schachter:
I kind of think if I want to trace the way my career in the past brought me here to NHPR...it was at the Times when I started working on new projects that were based in journalism, but might have some commercial relevance for the company that I got the entrepreneurial bug that made me curious enough to want to to take on the responsibilities here. I keep joking - it's not a very funny joke, but I keep joking that I spent my whole career spending money and now my job is to raise the money so that the other journalists can get their work done.

Rick Ganley:
NHPR's board of directors has outlined fundraising as a significant challenge for the station. What's worked at other stations that could help us here at NHPR?

Jim Schachter:
Well, NHPR does the single most important thing that's the bedrock of any kind of fundraising, which is make great content that that starts with journalism in the newsroom and it extends to our digital platforms, and in a way that most organizations in public radio our size have not come anywhere close to. It extends here to what we do in the world of podcasts, what we are experimenting with here and really, what public radio stations all across the country are experimenting with is, how do we build the relationships with audiences around our podcasts and our digital content? Otherwise, that looks something like the relationship we have with the radio audience. We're experimenting with asking people for donations on our podcasts. We've also said that there's some content that's only available if you make a donation. That's something that only a few stations are really trying to find their way through.

Rick Ganley:
It's a tricky thing. Having exclusive content and public radio.

Jim Schachter:
It is the the implication I've heard in the office - the word paywall implied, and everything I know about paywalls from the New York Times, which has probably the most effective one in all of journalism...

Rick Ganley:
But of course, that's a different - it's apples and oranges when you're talking about Manhattan and New Hampshire.

Jim Schachter:
Well, but the one - what I was going to say is that the paywall is a pay collander or a pay sieve. There are many, many ways that you can access The New York Times content, whether you're in Walpole, New Hampshire or the Upper East Side that don't involve paying. And they've built that in a way that is very technically adept, but also psychologically adept to try to encourage people to to use the content. But then at a certain point, say, if you're using so much of our content and you value it so much, support us in making it. If I'm trying to directly answer your question of what can we do, what what has worked elsewhere, I think we have to look at the very best in the journalism and media business and try to to see how that work can work at the scale of what we do.

Rick Ganley:
But that all speaks, of course, to resources and how you gather those resources. And I'm wondering in your mind philosophically, how do you decide where to put those resources, especially when they are limited at times? How do you say, OK, we're going to put resources into this experiment to see about something that maybe beyond the the original traditional scope of New Hampshire Public Radio? How do we decide to to reinvest in, you know, what we've traditionally done?

Jim Schachter:
Well, it starts with remembering the mission. We are here for the good of the community. And every choice that we make needs to be about maximizing the impact that we can have for good in in our world here in New Hampshire. That's the starting point. And if you keep that north star of service to the community, service to the audience in focus, then it begins at least to help help, you know, define the contours of every other decision.

Rick Ganley:
NHPR's former CEO Betsy Gardella resigned last fall following an investigation into complaints from employees. Station leadership says there was no evidence of illegal activities or financial mismanagement. But outside, investigators did identify H.R. management and some communication issues. Do you think you've got a handle on those issues yet?

Jim Schachter:
I think I have a lot of listening still to do. Before I got here, before I was on the payroll, I sent a note to everybody who worked here asking for some input about both helping me to understand what their job was at NHPR, but also asking what worked and what didn't work at the organization and asking for advice of what what I needed to both do, and where I would be wise to avoid doing as the new head of NHPR. And I got a tremendous amount of, I think, candid, direct response and I'm taking that in, taking it to heart, trying to see the patterns in that. Trying to have the right conversations spurred by that input. You can pick your your truism off the shelf, but the idea that culture eats strategy for breakfast, I think is something that we have all experienced if the culture is broken. All the best planning in the world only gets you so far. So I want this to be a place that really works together well and then is, you know, strong enough about itself to work really well in concert with people in the community, too, and across the state, too, to have the impact we possibly can.

Rick Ganley:
Jim Schachter is NHPR's new CEO. Thanks so much.

Jim Schachter:
Thank you, Rick.

 

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