Sunday, January 09, 2011

Thank You Ellen Weiss

By now you probably know that NPR's Senior News VP Ellen Weiss resigned her post as part of the fallout from firing Juan Williams.

The Washington Post has a follow-up article on industry reaction to her resignation and there are several references to her many significant contributions to public radio. Not listed was her role in expanding All Things Considered to two hours each evening and, more importantly, moving the start time of the program an hour earlier, to 4pm.

In the mid-1980s, it was obvious that East coast stations were losing audience by not having All Things Considered on at 4pm. Stations in the Central time zone and west enjoyed good success with the earlier broadcast. For years, NPR News leadership and the staff at All Things Considered turned down frequent requests from stations to start the program an hour earlier. It was All Things But That Considered.

That changed when Ellen was Executive Director of the program and Bill Buzenberg was the News VP. Ellen thoroughly researched the stations' needs, NPR's capacity to make the change, and the cultural shift it required in the newsroom. Though the move would be unpopular with her direct staff and other newsroom colleagues, she came down on the side of... the listeners, and as a result, stations.

The move to a 4pm (et) All Things Considered was one of the most significant steps in public radio's growth as a national news outlet. Hundreds of thousands of new listeners could now hear the program at a time convenient to them. Those listeners then found other programs on local stations and eventually became donors. Today millions of people get their news during this hour. If you're one of them, then you have Ellen Weiss to thank.

I worked directly with Ellen Weiss for several years at NPR and that was how she operated -- in the best interest of the listeners. It is NPR's loss that she will no longer be there to offer her insights.

NPR's loss does not have to be public radio's loss. Significant investments are being made at many public radio stations as they seek to become major players in local and regional news. One of those investments should be in the experience and wisdom of Ellen Weiss.

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