CURRENT ONLINE

CBC executive Jeffrey Dvorkin will head NPR News

Originally published in Current, June 2, 1997

By Jacqueline Conciatore

NPR has named Jeffrey Dvorkin, chief journalist and managing editor of CBC's radio news operation, to lead its news division.

Dvorkin has headed CBC Radio's expansive but budget-squeezed English-language news and information service since 1991. He initially managed news programming, and in 1996 assumed control of current affairs programming as well. The Toronto-based CBC English radio service has 32 stations, employs 1,250 people, and reaches a good portion of the population--15 percent of Canadians listen daily to the a.m. news program Morningside.

Dvokin, 50, was the NPR search committee's top choice "by far and away," says managing editor Bruce Drake. "[He] exhibited a real feel for not only radio and radio reporting, but radio reporting in context of public broadcasting. And by all accounts he has been a top-flight manager."

Dvorkin says he will phase in his move to NPR, appearing at meetings over the summer, including the Public Radio Conference in June. He expects to be in office full-time by mid-August. NPR plans to introduce him at a press conference June 3.

His predecessor, Bill Buzenberg, also got a new job in May; he'll take over Minnesota Public Radio's news operation, MPR announced.

Staffers who were worried that President Delano Lewis would hire a manager whose background is print journalism or commercial broadcasting--someone potentially out of touch with public radio's ethic and unskilled in its craft--are surely relieved. The noncommercial, well-respected CBC "is the closest possible relative of U.S public radio in the entire world," says Jeff Rosenberg, who oversees NPR's relations with foreign broadcasters.

"People seem pleasantly pleased to find out [the new v.p.] is a public radio person and a news person," says one news staff member. "And everyone thinks pretty highly of the CBC."

When Buzenberg announced his resignation, critics said Lewis had pushed him out after years of tensions between the two, and suggested the c.e.o. would bring in someone with a more corporate sensibility. Former NPR news manager John Dinges said he was concerned Lewis would bring in a corporate "toady."

But Lewis assured his company and the system his first priority would be finding someone with journalistic credentials, and his second would be finding a good manager. He set up a search committee comprised almost entirely of newsroom employees, though it was unofficially overseen by Chief Operating Officer Peter Jablow. Lewis, of course, had the final say.

Dvorkin is "no toady," but "a real newsman's newsman and that's a good sign," Dinges says. "Whether that means he's going to get along with Del Lewis, I don't know, because Bill Buzenberg was all those things and more."

Dinges says fighting for the news budget will be Dvorkin's biggest challenge. Buzenberg consistently lobbied for more money during his seven-year tenure as manager. Earlier this year, the news department's fiscal 1997 budget was cut, along with that of every other NPR department, to make up for lagging revenues. NPR is projecting a fiscal 1997 budget of $54 million.

Having to push for more money is the story everywhere in broadcast news, says Dvorkin. "The days of infinite largesse are over." But he seems impressed with NPR's resource base. "There is a solid base of foundation money and endowment money," he says. "Sure, it'd be nice to get more. ... but I think NPR, from the sound of things, is pretty well-resourced, and I think there's a lot we can do."

Dvorkin is no stranger to budget troubles. The Canadian government provides 100 percent of CBC radio funding (it forbids commercials on CBC radio though it permits them on CBC-TV) and has brutally whacked that support. By 1998, the English-language radio service will have absorbed three years' of cutbacks amounting to 23 percent of its budget--a drop from $128 million to $98 million. English radio will have lost 450 jobs and CBC overall, 2,500 jobs.

Dvorkin handled the drastic cut in part by integrating network and regional efforts. He moved origination of the hourly newscasts from Toronto to the stations, with feeds of national and international news coming from the headquarters. The change has reinvigorated the entire operation, he says, musing that it may be possible to strengthen NPR's relationships with its 500-plus affiliates, within the more decentralized system here.

Drake was impressed that Dvorkin seemed to maintain staff loyalty through the crisis. "I thought it was pretty notable, given the hard times the CBC just went through, people on the committee ... . kept hearing about his decency as a person and capacity for treating people with dignity. It's remarkable a place could undergo problems like that and the top manager would still be thought of with such reverence."

Dvorkin didn't entirely escape negative criticism, however. CBC Radio's most famous host, Morningside's Peter Gzowski, has accused CBC radio management of lacking vision to steer the network through its fiscal crisis, and of making cuts to the detriment of quality. Among the casualties was Morningside, which aired its last show Friday. (Gzowski is still with the CBC in a still-undetermined capacity.)

Rosenberg, who has worked with Dvorkin on issues of international broadcast policy, says Dvorkin is the "most friendly, easy-going and honest person you'd want to meet," though no pushover.

He is also something of an intellectual, says Rosenberg, with a broad range of interests. Dvorkin took time off from being CBC national radio newsroom manager in 1989 to work as a free-lance journalist based in Amsterdam, concentrating on the arts, and also reporting from Prague and Budapest during the fall of communism. He has been with the CBC since working as a city hall TV reporter in Montreal in 1979.

Where does this longtime journalist come down on the question of taking creative risks and/or having fun inside newsmagazines and other programming? CBC programming is a bit looser than NPR's--Morningside has included dramatic pieces, for example. Afternoon news program As It Happens, which was a model for NPR's All Things Considered, has the longer and more substantive pieces that mark ATC, but As it Happens also has a bit more attitude--Dvorkin describes it as "cheeky." (But it also has no produced or reported pieces; CBC radio has an earlier newscast for those.)

"People trust public radio in Canada and the U.S. because the quality of information is so reliable," says Dvorkin. "That is the core business I've been in for a long, long time and that's why we have the loyal audiences we do. That being said, I think it's important that we are capable of whimsy from time to time, as an accurate reflection of how people live. People don't live with grimness and horror all the time. Canadians have a more sardonic sense of humor than Americans, but Americans have a great sense of humor that enlivens what they do."

There is also a place for longer pieces, the ones that keep people inside their cars after they've reached their destinations, he says. But not in the morning when listeners are rushed and want the news.

Dvorkin has a master of philosophy degree from the London School of Economics, and a master's in history from the University of Toronto. He's also fluent in French, and can speak and read German and Hebrew.

Dvorkin is married to Elizabeth Barrett, and they have a son, Eli.

His appointment is subject to approval by the NPR Board, which will take up the appointment at its July 23-24 [1997] meeting.

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Buzenberg, Curtis take top program positions at MPR

Bill Buzenberg will assume command of the news operation at Minnesota Public Radio next January, 10 months after leaving the top news job at NPR.

Minnesota's top programming job, meanwhile, is going to Craig Curtis, now program director at WETA-FM in Washington, D.C. Curtis leaves WETA after July 3 and starts at MPR in August, succeeding Arthur Cohen, now at WNYC-AM/FM, New York.

Buzenberg, a journalist at NPR for 18 years and head of its news division for seven of those years, announced his resignation as news v.p. in January and began a six-month sabbatical March 3. He said he and his wife, Susan, planned to complete a book about the late Richard Salant, a celebrated president of CBS News. Observers also pointed to continuing friction between Buzenberg and his boss, NPR President Delano Lewis. He initially said he was talking with NPR management about returning to the news division as a journalist, but that didn't happen.

Buzenberg served as an NPR correspondent in Asia, Latin America, Europe and the Soviet Union before taking charge of the news division in 1990.

MPR President Bill Kling said in a release that the Buzenberg hiring is "another significant advancement" in news staffing, following the hiring of former Business Week writer Chris Farrell as MPR's senior economics editor.

Curtis, an active leader of Public Radio Program Directors, came to WETA three years ago. Previously he had spent 14 years at WUNC in Chapel Hill, N.C., beginning as music director in 1980 and rising to p.d. in 1985. Earlier he served as music director at KHCC-FM in Hutchinson, Kan. His departure from the Washington station, following General Manager Tom Livingston, leaves a sizeable hole in its management.

 

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To Current's home page

Earlier news: Dvorkin's predecessor, Bill Buzenberg, was credited with defending the NPR News operation and leading it to new levels of professionalism.

Earlier news: Tensions between NPR management and Buzenberg contributed to his departure in March 1997.

Outside link: Web site of Dvorkin's former employer, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

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