New NPR Chief, Jarl Mohn, Vows to Foster DiversityJarl Mohn isn’t actually the commanding officer of the Big Red One; he’s a former disk jockey turned cable mogul and investor. The JibJab comedy video guys needed a natural-born White Male Authority Figure to play a general, and Mr. Mohn fit the bill nicely.
By ELIZABETH JENSEN JUNE 29, 2014
Jarl Mohn, who will become chief executive of NPR this week, was chosen in part because of the strong record of diversity at Southern California Public Radio, where he was board chairman.
When Jarl Mohn takes the helm as NPR’s chief executive on Tuesday, he will call on lessons learned from public radio in Los Angeles to address what he says is one of NPR’s most pressing priorities: increasing its reach into communities of color.
Mr. Mohn, who was named to the NPR post on May 9, was chosen in part because of the strong record of diversity at Southern California Public Radio, parent of the Los Angeles station KPCC, where until recently he was the board chairman.
At the time of his appointment, NPR’s board adopted a strategic plan intended to “increase the diversity of the audience by age, ethnicity and geography,” as well as the sources it quotes and the “diversity of NPR talent;” NPR’s newsroom staff is 77 percent white, and its audience even more so, according to a report from NPR’s ombudsman.
Eleven days later, however, NPR announced that it would end “Tell Me More,” its daily show meant to attract African-Americans and other listeners of color. The cancellation, which NPR said was necessary to help close a $6 million deficit, was seen by some as being disturbingly at odds with NPR’s newly stated goals. For its part, NPR said new newsroom teams would help weave diversity across its programs.
Mr. Mohn, an investor and longtime cable and digital media executive, said he was not part of the decision to cancel “Tell Me More,” but added that it “was probably right,” assuming it was business-driven. “Diversity has to make sense in the business context,” he said.
Improved diversity, though, will contribute to NPR’s success, he said, pointing to the experience with KPCC’s morning program “Take Two” as a blueprint for NPR. “If we see diversity and a diverse organization as our green vegetable that we have to eat, that’s not success,” he said.
The point is that the reigning Theology of Diversity isn’t much of an impediment to the fabulous careers of the white guys at the top like Jarl Mohn. It’s just another series of rhetorical hoops they’ve mastered jumping through.