Paterson on leadership (at NPR)

While I do appreciate Robert Paterson’s take on the leadership issue that’s likely below the surface of the NPR / Stern debate, I’m struggling to believe that that’s the core of this week’s story — that Ken Stern just ruffled too many feathers and it was time for a different leader. Sure, hard-charging generals are not the best leaders in all situations, and after 10 years of whip-cracking you might need a smooth operator. That makes eminent sense.

But in the shifting media environment about which so many of us write and ruminate, isn’t a hard-charging general needed at the top? Someone that has both the vision and the drive to push through to a new way of thinking and doing. The media environment changes in play today are not just operational in nature, where a COO might fix this, improve that — they’re strategic shifts. Seismic shifts. World-upside-down shifts. Only a CEO and her or his board of directors can handle those issues and realign the company. And given the time-to-market pressures of new media on old media, NPR probably didn’t (and doesn’t) have the time for all the required dinners and socials and private meetings, nor could it afford compromise after political compromise on the way to a new strategy.

NPR — like all media companies, for-profit or nonprofit, operating in any or all media formats — must grapple with the fundamental changes in progress. The relationship between producers, distributors and consumers is completely inverting.

Of course, this entire discussion could be moot. Public media’s future may have to be created outside the voluminous corpus of NPR (or APM or PRI or APT or PBS or …). Developing a new model with fundamentally different DNA may not be possible inside the system, either with a hard-charging general or a sweet-talking politician.