Jarl Mohn, NPR’s CEO, on public radio’s future: ‘We’ve doubled down on solid, important journalism’
On Tuesday, St. Louis Public Radio had a special visitor: Jarl Mohn, the CEO of NPR. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh had a few moments to talk with him about the future of public radio, his thoughts on covering the Trump administration and the state of media literacy.
Mohn joined NPR as CEO on July 1, 2014. Prior to that, Mohn founded E! Entertainment Television and held senior leadership positions at MTV, VH1 and CNET.
Below, we’ve summarized some of the most interesting points from the conversation:
On the Trump administration…
“Anytime there’s an administration change, there’s a lot of news being made,” Mohn said. “One of the things I find fascinating: I’ve never seen people so engaged and interested in what’s going on. When was the last time you were as interested in the cabinet picks?”
“Are we as journalists concerned? Anyone would be, but ultimately I think we have a remarkable democracy. We have journalism, we have a lot of really remarkable people doing stories. I’m more worried about the economic things that are happening to journalism.”
On questions regarding the future of federal funding for public broadcasting…
“We’ve had a Republican congress since 2010 and there have been movements in the past to defund public broadcasting, but we do have friends on the Republican side of the aisle and the Democratic side of the aisle. It is an issue, it has always been an issue. We do have a lot of friends and a lot of support. It isn’t organizations like St. Louis Public Radio that are at risk if that happened. It would be uncomfortable, it would be a nuisance, but St. Louis Public Radio would prevail. … but it would be small communities, where all they have may be public broadcasting and the majority of their budget comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. That news, those services to the community would be greatly missed.”
On the ‘trust factor’ of NPR in rural areas…
“Up until recently, I don’t know how good of a job we’ve done in representing those communities,” Mohn said.
Mohn cited instances during the election season where Steve Inskeep visited Appalachia and David Greene traveled to Montana to report on the communities there. “You’ll be hearing more of that,” he said.
He also mentioned that Kurt Siegler, who covers the western United States on NPR’s national desk, would soon be covering a beat dedicated to reporting on the urban/rural divide in America.
“I found some of the most interesting coverage of this election was when people were out talking to voters,” Mohn said.
On NPR’s efforts in diversification…
“We’ve made a concerted effort to diversify but we have a long way to go,” Mohn said.
He cited recent staffing changes in the national newsmagazines that have brought hosts of color front-and-center. He also said that the network keeps “rigorous statistics” month-by-month that track the demography of the guests and sources on NPR.
“We work hard — and not just about ethnic diversity, we are concerned about geographic diversity as well,” Mohn said.
On the millennial listener…
“We’ve seen dramatic increases in the 18-24-year-old and 25-34-year-old demographic, despite the mythology they don’t listen to radio,” Mohn said. “That’s just not true. Ninety-three percent of 18-34-year-olds listened to radio in the past seven days.”
Mohn views podcasting as a way to get millennial listeners into the world of news radio. He believes the conversational, less formal style will be what NPR starts to sound like going forward.
“I think there’s a way and we’ve been demonstrating it, that we can attract a younger audience at the same time we protect the core,” Mohn said. “The values are great journalism: are we doing stories with great impact? Are we telling them as great stories? It has nothing to do with any demographic, people love great stories.”
On his background in commercial media…
“From VH1 or MTV or E!, any of those companies I had the fortune run, it is all about understanding what the people coming to you want…and then doing a good job super-serving that audience. I want to add an addendum: those listening may be saying ‘oh, that’s pandering.’ That’s not the case.
“The people that listen to public radio want good, solid journalism. They want good storytelling. They want to hear those stories, they want those driveway moments. That can’t be done by formula. That can only be done by really great, smart, creative people experimenting and trying things. I find the parallels there similar.
“That’s what we did at VH1, MTV and E! Very different approach. Very different product. I think people were concerned when I took this job that I would be taking the network in that direction. I hope we’ve proven over the last two and a half years that we’ve doubled down on solid, important journalism.”
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.