Laura Walker '87
President & CEO, New York Public Radio
I used my time at SOM to think about what it meant to be both a manager and a strategic leader. My MBA training was instrumental in shaping the way I approach and manage change.
The digital age has dramatically changed journalism and the media business. Laura Walker ’87 has witnessed the shrinking of traditional advertising revenue and news staffs that has left commercial media outlets vulnerable. As president and CEO of New York Public Radio, Walker sees both the challenges and the immense opportunities of the digital age.
“The imperative for public media is to fill the void that’s being left in journalism for really high quality, in-depth news reporting and deep conversation around issues,” Walker says. “But good work requires time and resources. It’s expensive, and the digital advertising model we’re all grappling with isn’t anywhere near as profitable as the older models. Just as we need to think about content differently, we also need to think about revenue generation differently in a digital world.”
Walker joined WNYC in 1996 to oversee the station’s transformation from a city-owned agency into an independent nonprofit. Since becoming independent, WNYC has relied on membership, underwriting, and philanthropy for revenue. “We don’t have the marketing and advertising budgets that commercial stations do, but we have a very strong brand and a very loyal membership,” Walker says. “We are evolving our membership model for the digital world.”
Walker’s strategy has been to deepen and diversify the product her station delivers, using the new technology to develop programming that is both substantive and niche-driven. In 2001,WNYC launched an ambitious expansion plan and a $63 million capital campaign. Walker doubled the size of the newsroom, began national programming initiatives, and capitalized on public radio’s innate strengths—informative and talk-based programs—by investing in podcast delivery.
“My MBA training really stressed how smart execution is paramount to anything you undertake,” Walker says. “You have to make sure everyone involved is thinking through the process. At Yale SOM, inclusiveness was also emphasized. During our expansion, we looked within our organization for feedback and collaboration, and we also reached out to our stakeholders, soliciting their input.”
With an emphasis on robust content, WNYC developed fresh programming that would broaden the role of public radio nationwide. Walker says the station gave talented editorial and production teams the support they needed to create innovative programs, such as Radiolab and Freakonomics Radio. “As a result of the financial support and creative freedom we give them, the producers and hosts are able to produce intensely creative programming that sounds different and that digs deeper into subjects,” Walker says.
Today, New York Public Radio creates more than 350 hours of programming each week. It owns and operates WNYC-FM, WNYC-AM, WQXR, the four stations that comprise New Jersey Public Radio, and a variety of websites. Its content is distributed to public radio stations across the nation and is accessed by audiences around the world on digital devices. “Our stations and digital properties reach 11.5 million people monthly,” Walker says.
Early in her career, Walker worked at National Public Radio and at Carnegie Hall before deciding to pursue an MBA. “I chose SOM because I was seeking an intellectually rigorous education with people who were passionate about making a real difference in business, government, and the nonprofit world,” she says. “When I went to visit SOM, the discussions I heard on campus were about the substance of the work and the issues of our interdependent world.”
After receiving her MBA in 1987, Walker joined the Children's Television Workshop, where she spearheaded the creation of the children’s cable television channel Noggin.
“I used my time at SOM to think about what it meant to be both a manager and a strategic leader,” Walker says. “My MBA training was instrumental in shaping the way I approach and manage change. I often stand back and ask myself, ‘What is it that I do?’ and ‘What more can I do?’ We’re in this incredibly fast-paced and changing digital environment. We need to always be asking ourselves what more good we can accomplish—whether that means filling in a void or trying something new that nobody else has done.”