Sonny Perdue puts a CNN veteran in charge of Georgia Public Broadcasting

Early this spring, Gov. Sonny Perdue made a quiet stir in the state Capitol with his selection of former CNN executive Teya Ryan as the head of Georgia Public Broadcasting.

The governor broke two unspoken rules along the way. First, the five previous people in charge of bringing Ken Burns or Clifford the Big Red Dog into your home had been state bureaucrats.

Teya Ryan, president and executive director of Georgia Public Broadcasting

Teya Ryan, president and executive director of Georgia Public Broadcasting

The idea of putting an experienced broadcaster in charge of a state-owned network of nine public TV stations, 18 radio stations, an educational video arm and a web site actually qualifies, by Georgia standards, as revolutionary.

But it was the second violation that left Republican lawmakers, in particular, irate. Perdue passed over several GOP-credentialed nominees pushed by GPB’s board of directors — which has the formal authority to make the appointment — to get to Ryan.

Resentment was exacerbated by the fact that, in a world bisected by Fox News and that other cable news network, the woman once in charge of CNN programming hails from the wrong side of a vast ideological divide.

Ryan, 54, inherits an arm of state government that has lurched, at the worst of times, between excess and incompetence.

A lavish $50 million, state-of-the-art headquarters on 14th Street, paid for with state lottery funds, was a near-scandal when it opened in 1997. Two years later, Gov. Roy Barnes fired the top GPB executive — a former state school superintendent — and sacked the authority’s entire board after a deficit totaling millions of dollars was discovered.

The state auditor was brought in to run the operation. But uncertainty became a fact of life at GPB. For two years before Ryan’s arrival, the authority had been in the hands of a pair of “acting” administrators.

“I thought that this was such an enormous opportunity, and I suppose — although I’m just learning about the background — an opportunity lost in some ways,” Ryan said in an interview last week.

Any cheering from GPB’s employees at the thought of an experienced TV veteran at the helm has been tempered by the state’s fiscal crisis. Since March, 29 employees have been laid off or encouraged to retire, the empty work stations making GPB’s spacious digs seem cavernous.

Many of the cuts preceded Ryan’s arrival, some didn’t. Overall, GPB’s $30 million budget has shrunk by 10 percent. (The state’s current annual share has been trimmed to $16.4 million.)

Morale was not helped when GPB board chairman Lowell Register of Macon attempted to explain Ryan’s selection. “We have 175 people in Atlanta and we don’t know what all of them do,” Register told Current, a newspaper that covers public broadcasting.

Said Ryan, last week: “I don’t think the board needs to know what every single person does. But the people who run this place better know, and I do know.”

Six weeks into the job, Ryan is still sorting out where she will take GPB. Her conversations with the governor, she said, have been “full of thought and broad-ranged thinking.” But Perdue has given her no specific directions.

Though she realizes that ratings aren’t everything, Ryan says she wants to instill a “commercial discipline” into an under-performing, state-owned network that, in terms of size and potential audience, ranks only behind public TV systems in New York and Los Angeles.

In the meantime, some public affairs programming has been placed on hold. “Over the next year you’ll see some very creative initiatives,” the executive director said.

Ryan is experienced with makeovers. Her transformation of CNN’s Headline News, spicing it up with graphics and younger anchors, was judged a success within the industry.

But an attempt to strengthen CNN’s evening line-up with ex-CBS co-anchor Connie Chung earned her little but ridicule. And as a result, the word “beleaguered” was attached to Ryan’s name when she left CNN in 2003.

One of the questions the new GPB executive kicks around in her head these days — a long string of questions, really — revolves around the retreating state of journalism. That newspapers are shrinking is no secret. But commercial TV is pulling back as well.

“I think we’re asking the question, what is the fiduciary and social and cultural responsibility of a PBS station in this kind of news environment? Where do we shore up?” Ryan asked. “Do we create a stronger journalism department? Do we pick that up?

“Here’s the problem: How do we afford it all? Just because we’re here, doesn’t mean we have the money. But there is no doubt we have to figure this out,” she said.

Ryan has no answers yet. Just the questions.

It’s a cliche, but stay tuned.

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14 comments Add your comment

Sage of Possum Rock

May 24th, 2009
3:53 pm

If Sonny Perdue wanted to introduce real change to the endless money pit that is the Georgia Public Broadcasting System, he would have done something other than appoint another left-wing media hack from the “Communist News Network” as its chief. Nonetheless, perhaps she can shrink the GPBS’s market share like CNN so that in end it can be defunded without evoking howls of protest from the inside 285 knot of Atlanta liberals who live to watch Clifford the Big Red Dog and Zabumafu the Lemur. If so, then Governor Perdue is even more clever than I’ve suspected.

Curly Girly-man

May 24th, 2009
7:51 pm

Like most GOPers, I love Fox News. Someone from them would best for us Georgia morons.

And, I don’t like the fact she’s a woman. Like most GOPers, I hate women.

But, like most GOP guys, I do oh so love dressing up like one…

Fishawk

May 24th, 2009
9:45 pm

PBS bringing extraordinary program to TV and radio. Just watched the Memorial Day program from DC. I didn’t see a communist in the house nor a dry eye. It was a magnificent tribute to our service personnel. Almost all of the PBS programming from the arts to educational programming is both refreshing thought-provoking; PBS is a beacon in the on the waters of commercialization. I appears it is not for illiterate.

null

May 24th, 2009
10:37 pm

one must be a special type of retarded to bitch about PBS. Damn….if your life is that bad, you should just do yourself a favor and drink some antifreeze now, or run the car in a closed garage.

dmac

May 25th, 2009
7:04 am

Georgia Public Broadcasting is a great resource.

As it is now, Georgia Public Radio has affiliate stations scattered all across the state. It’s a fantastic network, with one exception. GPR does not serve the Atlanta area. How absurd is that? There are two good reasons GPR should be in the Atlanta metro market.

WABE, Atlanta’s public radio station, is ok but it has repeatedly refused to carry more informational programming during the 9am-3pm slot. That is a void that GPR could fill. Talk shows that inform rather than yell. Atlantan’s would eat it up.

The other reason is money. Politicians want to complain about how GPB is a big money loser, well who’s the brainiac who left out the cash cow from GPRs network? Adding the largest market in the state to GPRs network would pad everyone’s bottom line. GPR should have a station serving the Atlanta area.

Buzz G

May 25th, 2009
7:17 am

This was one very bad appointment. Why do Republicans have such problems with poor leadership? It’s as if once they get into government, politicians become drunk on power and forget the values of the people who put them there. It is not unique to Georgia. The only solution is to keep voting them out of power.

joe biden senior

May 25th, 2009
7:18 am

Curly Girly-man, what a well thought out, educated, forward thinking post.
(why do our far left friends always resort to this type of rhetoric).
So girly-man, grow up and get a life.

bobfromCanton

May 25th, 2009
7:29 am

I just do not see why any state needs a public broadcasting system. Since we are in a budget deficit, why don’t we get rid of it and pay to hire more teachers? The station is always begging for money every time they have anything worth watching…

Jack Sartain

May 25th, 2009
7:58 am

Go Gov! Bureaucrats CAN be repleced by market-smart professionals and Ms Ryan gets my vote. People who complain about GPB seem not to realize its high educational and community value. An where is this left-wing talk in some comments coming from – and they “beg” for money like every other not-for-profit organization – financial volunteerism, you know!

bobfromCanton

May 25th, 2009
9:46 am

jack, you must be smokin’ something….

Curly Girly-man

May 25th, 2009
10:50 am

Joe, thanks for your kind words. Seriously, Joe, I for one like the black jacket for the slimming effect, and a longish black skirt to hide my thunder thighs . (Like most of us GOPers, I’m a little on the plus size. Well, way on the plus size, truth be known. I don’t feel bad though. I went to a Palin rally when she was in town, and I swear it was a walrus convention. And, show me a skinny Republican, and I’ll show you an alcoholic. I’ll have a six-pack or two with my three large Domino pizzas Saturday night, but other than that I don’t drink much. As you all know, Ceci’s don’t serve beer at their all-you-can-eat pizza buffets.)

Road Scholar

May 25th, 2009
10:58 am

Seems like a great selection to run GPB. Seems that the repubs/conserves can’t remember that they can’t manage a one car funeral, let alone a business. As a supporter of GPB, we will continue to donate funds to help with its operations and entertaining programming. You can only watch so many cop/investigator shows on corporate tv( ie NCIS, NCIS Los Angeles, NCIS duluth,… or CSI, CSI …) or allegded reality shows.
It is wonderful to have documenteries that give you history or the story behind our current and past dilemnas such as Frontline. Those who do not want GPB are shallow, biased hacks who’s views are based on what they want to selectively acknowledge and not history and fact.

Jofus

May 26th, 2009
12:18 pm

Maybe Georgia Public Broadcasting should be apun-off from Georgia state government and be made a private-sector nonprofit organization like some major PBS stations (WGBH, WNET, etc.).

herbK

May 27th, 2009
8:40 am

Teya? I’d hit it. Hot like an illegally linked image………..