The Vermont Public Radio Board of Directors announced Thursday that West Virginia public broadcaster Scott Finn will be the next leader of VPR.
Finn is currently CEO and Executive Director of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
“What really attracted me is the fact that the board and the staff aren’t satisfied," Finn said Wednesday of his decision to join VPR, "there’s this great desire to continue to innovate and get better.”
In a news release announcing Finn’s hiring, VPR said he has overseen a transformation at West Virginia Public Broadcasting (WVPB) that dramatically increased fundraising and audience.
WVPB is a statewide radio and television network best known for the music program Mountain Stage, which airs on 150 radio stations nationwide.
Finn, who has a background in journalism, began his career as a reporter at the Charleston Gazette in West Virginia.
He then worked as a reporter and news director at WVPB, before becoming news director at WUSF Public Media in Tampa, Florida. He returned to WVPB five years ago to become CEO and Executive Director.
Explaining his move from the newsroom to administration, Finn said he was attracted to the idea of having a role in supporting and protecting the work of a news organization:
“I feel strongly that journalism is more important than ever,” he said. “It’s the bedrock of what we do here in public media. Especially with the decline in the number of reporters at newspapers, public media has to step up and do some of the roles that newspapers used to do.”
WVPB has 52 full-time employees, including a newsroom staff of eight and anticipated expenses of $8.9 million for fiscal 2018.
Radio programming includes a mix of classical and news, similar to VPR before those services split into two statewide networks in 2007.
“It’s rare to have a state that has such a well built out, over-the-air classical, full-time service. There’s only so much news you can take, and you need a respite,” said Finn.
VPR has 56 full-time employees, with a budget of $8.4 million in the current fiscal year.
As for why he’s making the move between two similarly-sized public broadcast organizations, Finn explained in an email:
“VPR is a community licensee with a strong tradition of member support — that's very appealing. Also, because VPR spends less of its resources on transmission and engineering, VPR devotes more to reporting and storytelling.”
State funds have accounted for between 35 and 45 percent of WVPB’s budget, but as the West Virginia economy has contracted, Finn said there has been pressure to reduce state support for public broadcasting.
Last year, there were proposals to eliminate all state funding. Ultimately, WVPB received a reduced appropriation of $3.6 million.
Finn said in the past 5 years, state funding has been cut by $2 million. He said much of the loss has been offset by growth in revenues from underwriting, membership, grants and sales of services.
Costs have also been reduced. Over time, WVPB staff numbers have declined from 70 to 52.
Finn grew up in Iowa and earned a B.A from Harvard University and an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Following college, Finn was a community organizer and founded a family literacy program in rural West Virginia.
He said in college he had a summer job that included bringing inner-city children on backpacking trips to Vermont. That was his introduction to the state.
“It’s a very idealized version, I know — Vermont in the summer, taking kids on backpacking trips — but you do get a sense of community there and the natural beauty,” he said.
VPR board chair Peggy Williams says Finn was the board’s unanimous choice.
“He has experience and he has fresh eyes,” she said. “VPR is a very strong organization [but] we don’t want to be complacent, we don’t want to just think we’re really good and don’t have to do much.”
Finn will replace Robin Turnau who announced last year that she would step down.