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Post-Vivian Schiller, big stakes in NPR's next moves

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Lucas Jackson/Reuters

(Read caption) A seat saved for Vivian Schiller, President and CEO of National Public Radio (NPR), sits empty during the 2011 Bloomberg Media Summit in New York on Wednesday, March 9. Post-Vivian Schiller, as NPR's board of directors search for new CEO, big issues confront next leader.

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The short, tumultuous leadership of Vivian Schiller is over at NPR, leaving public radio employees shellshocked, wounded, and peering into an uncertain future.

Her departure – coming less than a day after an undercover video showed an NPR fundraiser, whom she had hired, belittling tea party Republicans and conservatives in general – is the third top-level exit in recent months. The fundraiser, Ron Schiller (no relation to Ms. Schiller), is also gone, as is longtime producer Ellen Weiss, who was forced out as senior vice president of news after the controversial firing of news analyst Juan Williams in October.

The exodus has left NPR shaken and buried in controversy. Its 17-member board of directors, which includes 10 heads of member public radio stations, says it is putting together a search committee to find NPR's next leader. But whoever gets the job will take the helm of an organization whose journalistic reputation has been tarnished, that seems conflicted about the need for continued federal funding for public broadcasting, and that has big unresolved points of tension between itself and local public radio stations across the US.

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At stake is not only the future of NPR, but also perhaps American journalism itself.

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