NEW YORK – Calling public television a vital piece of the fabric of the American culture, Paula A. Kerger hopes to preserve "authenticity and quality" as the head of Public Broadcasting Service.
Kerger, named as PBS' president and chief executive officer, can expect to face an artistic, financial and political minefield when she starts work March 13.
But as a top executive with New York City's local public TV stations, she has gained experience in programming, fundraising and dealing with the national organization as well as with other local stations, she said Monday.
In her new job, Kerger will direct the operations of a private, nonprofit media enterprise with an annual budget of more than $300 million, owned and operated by the nation's 348 public television stations.
"What makes it a complicated system — the fact that it's all these local stations — is its great strength," Kerger told The Associated Press. "In an era when there are almost no remaining locally owned and operated broadcast media, the importance of a strong public broadcasting system is critically important."
While public television has been criticized as less relevant in a media universe with dozens of channels, Kerger insisted "there's a scope of work that no one else is doing. That needs to be our highest priority. We will identify those areas that are underserved, and really focus on that."
The 48-year-old Kerger, whose selection was unanimously approved by the PBS board Sunday, has been executive vice president and chief operating officer of Educational Broadcasting Corp., licensee of Thirteen/WNET and WLIW New York, two of the nation's largest public television stations, since 2004. She joined EBC in 1993. Before that, she held management positions at the Metropolitan Opera and the U.S. Committee for UNICEF.
Kerger succeeds Pat Mitchell, who a year ago announced plans to step down after taking over in 2000, and will now head the Museum of Television & Radio.
Mitchell's tenure was marked by funding woes from the private sector and political pressure from Congress and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the private organization that funnels federal dollars to PBS and other public broadcasting outlets. In particular, public television has been targeted by some critics as skewing liberal in its programming.
These are challenges Kerger can expect to grapple with.
Success, she said, depends on "the ability to get the staff at PBS as well as the (station) leaders across the country to stand together. If I felt I couldn't do that, I wouldn't have taken the job."
But Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, proposed his own formula for success.
"On the one hand, she has to stay strong to her principles, and resist pressure from conservative critics. But she also has to appeal to those critics to get them to support a blueprint for the future.
"In order for her to succeed, I think she needs to ruffle some feathers — and not just hide behind Big Bird."