PBS CEO Paula Kerger On Maintaining Public Trust After 50 Years On Air

PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger, seen here in February 2019, spoke to “All Things Considered” host Jim Burress about the broadcasting services 50th anniversary.

Willy Sanjuan / Invision/AP

The Public Broadcasting Service will mark its 50th anniversary Sunday, and its most recognizable and seasoned stars of “Sesame Street” have stood the test of time.

But love and nostalgia for Big Bird, Elmo, Cookie Monster and even Oscar the Grouch aren’t the main reasons PBS has been around for a half-century.

President and CEO Paula Kerger told WABE’s “All Things Considered” host Jim Burress that it comes down to maintaining public trust — both in its children’s programs and its news offerings.

Kerger said the likely key to the network having another successful 50 years is localized stations having a stake in their communities. A New York Times article recently quoted PBS documentary filmmaker Ken Burns as saying the United States is “a big, complex, contradictory, controversial, majestic republic” and that “at PBS we’re trying to include everybody.”

That comes as Black Lives Matter movement marches saw a resurgence this summer, leading many organizations to reflect and reevaluate.

“We pay attention to the makeup of our board, of our staff, our relationships with producing organizations,” Kerger said. “We’ve looked at our policies. I have a diversity council that reports directly to me.”

Even so, Kerger said it’s important for PBS to continue to reexamine itself.

“We’ve built a lot of content for families and parents to help parents talk to their children about race and racism,” she said.

“And in doing that work, I think we have tried to really step back and take a hard look at ourselves.”

Kerger spoke about how PBS plans to stay true to its mission in the next half-century. She also talked about how its content will continue to evolve along with the needs of its audience.

Lily Oppenheimer contributed to this report.