First Mover: Vivian Schiller

The ex-NPR executive dishes on her new digital gig at NBC News

Adweek: What’s your favorite NBC News program?

Vivian Schiller: You’re not really going to ask me that question are you? I know better than to pick one.

So how do you represent a giant brand like NBC News, which is a bunch of shows, across different digital platforms? It can’t all be done in the same voice.

It is interesting. Brian Williams is a brand. Today is a brand. Meet the Press is a brand. There are so many elements on MSNBC cable. How do you adjudicate between these individual brands? I don’t know what the answer is at the moment.

Are there any cool tools or killer apps you are excited about bringing to NBC?

What are the new opportunities in mobile and geography-based social media? What can we do that will further our mission? The fun thing is that there are new tools emerging every day. Twitter and Facebook are old-fashioned now. I’m kidding, but social media is really the way for any news organization to interact with the community that’s its audience.

What’s NBC News already doing that’s cool or innovative?

NBC News has done a remarkable job of building community around its programs, particularly the Today show. The team translates the tone and voice of the Today show to the digital platform. You feel compelled to go there throughout the day because it’s got the sense of the personalities, lifestyle without the snarkiness. There’s also some really interesting stuff going on in social media. I really admire what Ryan Osborn, the social media guy, is doing. I literally have not met him in person, but I follow him on Twitter.

Do you tweet much?

I don’t tweet very much myself. I’ve been resisting tweeting a lot just because I know my personality. If I start, that will be the end.

Your take on the Times paywall?

I really want it to work. It absolutely was the right thing to try. It’s a very different model than what I was doing with TimesSelect.

You left NPR amid controversy over political bias. MSNBC grappled with its bias during Keith Olbermann’s ouster. Do you see parallels there?

No. People say all kinds of things about all kinds of news organizations. I worked at NPR, The New York Times, CNN. You always get attacked for bias, left, right or otherwise. At NPR we got accused of conservative bias far more often than you’d expect. You don’t pay attention to that stuff.

Is it a relief to have more of a budget to play with now and not have to answer to the government?

Even though it was a very small amount of federal dollars, any time you have federal dollars at play, your whole world becomes politicized. I’m not sorry to be out of that, quite honestly.

And if the Juan Williams thing were to happen again, what would you do differently?

So much ink has been spilled, so many pixels have been spent, I have nothing left to say. I wish him well.

Your dad was a Reader’s Digest editor. Did that influence you?

He was a reporter and editor for countless magazines, going back to the early ‘40s. My father was someone who was insatiably curious about everything. I know I inherited that. I wish he were alive to see this.

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