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CEO Knell Ditches NPR In Abrupt Move To Helm of National Geographic

Knell soothed a roiled organization, but questions over future strategy and financial health remain

Gary Knell came aboard NPR at the end of 2011, a seeming antidote to a staff and membership roiled by controversy and facing something of an identity crisis: In an age when content is available via digital streaming, what good is it to be latched firmly to terrestrial radio stations who govern future development?

Knell soothed the first,but won’t be around to answer the last. He abruptly served notice Monday that he is leaving the storied organization to take the helm of the National Geographic Society, according to documents posted on NPR’s web properties. “I was approached by the organization recently and offered an opportunity that, after discussions with my family, I could not turn down.” Knell said in a memo to NPR employees.

His departure is, by one count, the seventh chief executive to leave the organization behind such popular public-radio staples as “All Things Considered” and “Wait!Wait!…Don’t Tell Me” in seven years’ time.

Knell joined NPR in December of 2011, after the organization experienced a fundraising controversy as well as another imbroglio which saw NPR analyst  Juan Williams dismissed over comments he made while appearing on Fox News Channel. Knell came from the non-profit Sesame Workshop and had to reassure a staff that had grown disenchanted with the manner in which the previous topper, Vivian Schiller, ran the place.

Knell had a two-year contract, according to NPR, and he and the group’s board had been working on an extension, NPR continues to face budget shortfalls, but has been placing more emphasis on collaborations between NPR and its member stations as a way of moving forward.

Knell will remain with NPR until November. The board will begin considering a successor in September, NPR said.

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