NPR Chief Leaves For Job at National Geographic

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 19 2013 2:15 PM

NPR Chief Departing For National Geographic Society

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Gary Knell, thenSesame Workshop president and CEO, speaks with Sesame Street character Grover at the National Press Club Newsmaker Luncheon Program during an address on show's "educational mission"

Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

NPR is once again looking for a new CEO. The non-profit media organization announced Monday afternoon that Gary Knell, its current president and chief executive, is leaving to take a similar post with the National Geographic Society.

Knell, the former head of the Sesame Workshop, was given the public radio reins in December 2011, taking over for Vivian Schillar, who had resigned earlier that year under pressure after a former NPR fundraiser was caught on camera slamming conservatives in one of James O'Keefe's MSM "stings."

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Knell appears to be in the midst of a smoother, if more unexpected, exit. He broke the news to NPR's board of directors this morning, and then informed the rest of the staff in a mid-day memo. "It has taken a great deal of personal reflection on my part to reach this decision," he said of his move to National Geographic later this fall once his current two-year contract expires. "I will leave with a sense of enormous gratitude to each of you for all you do to make this organization a national treasure." Later, he reportedly stressed to staff that there was no difference of opinion that prompted his surprise exit.

As NPR's Two-Way notes, it's much more likely that Knell's motivation was, at least in part, financial. He reportedly had to take a pay cut when he joined NPR less than two years ago, something that likely won't be the case with NatGeo. In 2011, National Geographic's president and CEO made roughly $1.4 million, roughly twice the $700,000 salary that Knell brought home while working at the Sesame Workshop.

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Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City.