Public media execs are paid far more handsomely than you’d think

Former NPR CEO Kenneth Stern, who departed in 2008, is atop the pubcasting list, receiving $1,319,541 as part of his four-year contract. Another former exec, PBS COO Wayne Godwin, who served from 2000 to 2008, was paid $398,063. Current PBS CEO Paula Kerger, $534,500, up from $424,209 at end of fiscal 2007. Rounding out the list, in descending order: Laura Walker, CEO of WNYC Radio, $474,808; Al Jerome, KCET president, $426,688; Jeff Clarke, CEO, Northern California Public Broadcasting, $406,501; Neal Shapiro, WNET president, $400,570; Sharon Percy Rockefeller, WETA president, $391,904; Thomas Conway, WNET v.p., $374,321; Daniel Schmidt, WTTW president, $347,491; William Kling, Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media president, $347,217; Jonathan Abbott, WGBH president, $337,870; Jon McTaggart, MPR/APR CEO, $313,967; Joseph Bruns, WETA executive v.p., $303,108; Linda O’Bryon, Northern California Public Broadcasting chief content officer, $282,360; Paula Apsell, senior exec producer at WGBH, $278,209; Dean Cappello, chief creative officer, WNYC Radio, $272,072; Deborah Hinton, KCET exec v.p., $251,446; Dennis Haarsager, NPR interim CEO, $219,369; and Reese Marcusson, WTTW CFO, $214,397.


Of this list, only Kling at MPR and Haarsager at NPR are worth the money. Paula Kerger’s pay is particularly obscene, given how poorly PBS is run from a strategic perspective — she’s a booster, not a leader. Of course, that’s what the stations want (a booster), so it’s really their fault, but still.

It is very true you have to pay well to get good talent, even in the nonprofit space. That said, the notion that any of these people would make more than $250,000 annually is absurd. Only those living in Manhattan would need to make more, given the shocking cost of living there.

Some say you have to have well-paid execs so they can hobnob with the rich and powerful in their towns to raise money. That’s also true, but it’s only relevant if your mission is to be part of, and to reinforce, the existing power structure in your town. If your mission is true public service, the hobnobbing should be an afterthought, not a primary objective.

Please… tell me… who’s breaking the $250,000 barrier amongst leaders of homeless shelters? What about women’s shelters or rape support groups? Anyone working in mentally or physically disabled services camps getting rich? What about community blogging and news projects? Yeah. That’s what I thought.

It’s interesting to note that Jack Galmiche, one of the best CEOs and public servants in the public media world, is not on this list. Yet he led the nation in starting up the “Facing the Mortgage Crisis” project in St. Louis.

Perhaps everyone would grab the brass ring if offered, whispering “my precious” all the way to the bank. Shoot, I’d love to make wads of money, too. But in a public service organization? That doesn’t seem right to me.

Recommendation: $250,000 cap + a COLA for cities with cost of living indices of 150% above average or higher; absolute cap of $350,000.