Interview: MPR parent company’s new leader Jean Taylor on her background and vision for American Public Media Group

Jean Taylor
Jean Taylor is the next president and CEO of American Public Media Group, the parent company of Minnesota Public Radio.
Sarah Pierce Photography

Editor’s note: Journalists at MPR make editorial decisions independently from our parent company and cover American Public Media Group as we would any other company.

American Public Media Group, the parent company of MPR News, announced Wednesday that it has chosen its new president and CEO. Jean Taylor will replace Jon McTaggart, who announced last year he would step down.

Taylor, the first woman to lead APMG, served seven years as board chair of the Star Tribune, which is owned by her father, Glen Taylor.

Taylor has served as an APMG board member since 2013 and was named to the CEO search committee last October. APMG spokesperson Kelly Reller said Taylor "stepped down from her role as a search committee member" and "disengaged" from the board when she entered the candidate selection process.

Below is an edited and transcribed interview with Taylor about her new role.

After a career in the private sector and at the Star Tribune, why do you want to come to American Public Media Group (APMG) and Minnesota Public Radio (MPR)?

I've spent a lot of my career in the for-profit sector but doing nonprofit work all along. For the last 25 years, I've been working with nonprofits, and so I have a real heart for that. I believe I'm at a point in my career where I can give back. There's a lot that I have learned from business that I think, in a changing media landscape, we can utilize to be more agile and innovative and be prepared for the future of what media is going to bring us. I'm excited to bring my business experience.

What have you learned in the private sector that would be applicable here in nonprofit media?

What I believe in, in terms of business, is that businesses are made up of the people within them, and if you bring together a talented, diverse group of people who are willing to collaborate and align them behind a mission, you can accomplish just about anything. That's been my experience in business, and I think that will work fabulously here at APMG. There is already a talented team of people, and we will continue to align behind our mission and really drive toward the next round of success for this great organization.

Coming from the private sector, what do you see that you like about MPR and APMG? What, if anything, would you like to change?

What I love about it is the great history and foundation that has been set. Bill Kling gave us something that was new and unique and very entrepreneurial 50 plus years ago. Jon McTaggart has continued that legacy and really brought us into the digital age, and I'm excited to continue the continuity with it.

Coming from a family business, what we talk about all the time is continuity, and continuing this organization will be great. The other piece that I love about it is that this is public media, and I love the idea of the challenge of public media. Our mission and our call is for the communities that we serve, and it's for all of the people in the communities that we serve. I think we have a broader mandate than a for-profit business.

The piece of the mission for me that's really interesting here is the idea of public media. I've been thinking about media for years — both being on the MPR board and as part of the Star Tribune. But the idea of public media, and I think it's just perfect in this time as we think about our communities, making sure that communities are strong, that people come together, that people are informed, that people are inspired and feel good about the communities that they're in. That is the role of public media. That's what we need to drive and make happen, and that's what I'm really excited to do. It’s a big challenge, to be able to serve the broad community.

You mentioned coming from a family business background, and we should note that your father is Glen Taylor, the former owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves and the current owner of the Star Tribune. The Star Tribune is the main competitor of MPR News. Is this a conflict of interest for you?

I really don't look at it as competitive. Certainly our newsrooms are the two largest newsrooms in this state. This is a very different organization, but the community needs news and information brought to it in many different formats. The Star Tribune brings it in one format. MPR brings it in another. But APMG is a much broader organization than just MPR, too. We have a national footprint. We've got a very strong footprint with Southern California Public Radio, and I look at it as not competitive at all. We collaborate with Star Tribune, and I think we will continue to do that.

Weren't you in line to take over the paper from your father at one point? Is that still a goal or possibility for you?

No, I chaired the board. I oversaw the Star Tribune for my father, but the goal was never for me to take it over from my father, and that’s not what it is going forward.

Do you stand to benefit from your father's estate, and if so, how would you separate any connection you have to the newspaper with your new fiduciary duty to MPR and APMG?

I'm not going to comment on my father's estate. That's his work. But I have no conflict at all. Resigning from Star Tribune was what I needed to do, and that has taken care of any conflict that I have.

I know you worked a lot at the Star Tribune in the digital transition. A lot of people consider radio old media or antique media. How do you see the future of MPR and APM and what we have to offer here? And how do you help us succeed in a world that is becoming more and more digital by the day?

I think we've got a great digital footprint started here at APMG, and I think it's the same challenge that Star Tribune faces. There used to be one media of how we got our programming out to audiences, and that was radio. Now as the world has changed, we have many, many opportunities to diversify how our listening experience can come to different listeners in different communities. I don't see radio going away. There are people who need radio as a means for how they listen. But there are many, many other ways that people want to listen, and our job is to continue to use all the tools and the strengths of the digital footprint to help people access all the wonderful programming that we have and all the information that we are able to provide them.

How do you view this organization's credibility in the face of widespread mistrust of media? I know you've seen the polls. You've seen the numbers over the years. How does MPR and American Public Media build trust with communities in a state that's diversifying?

I don't have the statistics in front of me for how we are viewed today, so I can't speak to that with data. I think that the way that you develop that credibility is through high-quality journalism, and I think that's what we have throughout American Public Media Group. It's about having standards. Journalism is a profession, and it has standards for how reporting is done. It has ethics that our team of people will abide by. In order to build trust, I think if we are good journalists and build a quality, diverse newsroom that folks can count on and that we are thoughtful about what stories we're reporting on and that those stories represent all of the folks within our communities, that that's how we build trust. Trust comes from honesty and integrity and being true to your word.

There's been a concerted effort across the media landscape, including here at MPR and APMG, to include more diverse voices and perspectives within the newsroom and from outside the newsroom. Is that a goal you have for this company?

Yep, absolutely. I don't think we can fulfill our public service mission unless we have a newsroom that represents the communities that we are serving.

How would you describe your style of management? What goes into making important decisions at the top of a big organization?

I am a very inclusive leader. I love to have a talented group of people around me which has the various talents that we need. My leadership style is about empowering people. I don't really believe in pyramids. I believe in circles and gathering the right talent around and then talking and collaborating and then being very decisive and moving forward. I'm happy to make decisions and get things going along, but I'm also happy to empower people to make decisions so that we can move faster, be more innovative and be more agile.

MPR is important to many of our listeners, but the company also includes Marketplace — a national program, and operations in other states, like Southern California Public Radio. How do you balance the regional and national parts of this company, and which will get the bulk of your attention?

I'm not sure yet which will get the bulk of my attention. It's whatever part needs it. I balance it by making sure we have great leadership and great teams within all those parts of the company, but I also think one of the things that we have at American Public Media Group is a group of people who work well together. What we learn in one part of the business, we share with another part of the organization, and then that organization can go faster and get smarter and be more successful in terms of what we're doing for the different communities that we serve. It’s really about the synergies that we create together and about empowering leaders within our organization to make sure that we're fulfilling our mission.