For thousands of Southern Californians, the morning commute means "Morning Edition" and the afternoon commute "All Things Considered." So fully institutionalized have the daily news programs of National Public Radio become that many by now have forgotten in what parlous condition this private but nonprofit venture in serious radio news was as recently as a decade ago.
That NPR has not just survived but flourished since then is due in large measure to Douglas J. Bennet, who became its president in 1983 but is now moving on to be assistant secretary of state for international organizations. In 1983, NPR had 283 member stations; now it has 460 and a tripled audience: 7.1 million for "Morning Edition" and 6.6 million for "All Things Considered." Bennet, who engineered a major financial turnaround, in part, by restructuring the way NPR relates to its member stations, brought two strengths to his job: first, organizational skills honed by years of administrative work in government as well as in foundations; second, the broad vision of a Harvard Ph.D. in history.
The challenge to National Public Radio will be finding someone worthy to continue both halves of Bennet's legacy. The news organization he leaves behind requires a journalist with a historian's depth or a historian with a journalist's speed. The news organization he leaves behind requires a superb financial manager as well as a diplomat willing to do his best work behind the scenes. It's a big job. We wish the NPR board of directors every success in finding someone to do it.