Connecticut Public, the Hartford-based entity that operates Connecticut Public Television and WNPR radio, has hired Quinnipiac University School of Communications dean Mark Contreras as its new president and CEO.
Contreras replaces Jerry Franklin, who has been at the helm of the media group for the past 34 years.
Contreras said he wants to turn Connecticut Public into the "preeminent" public media organization in the state.
"I do think given the quality of the staff and the facilities that we have, that we've got a darn good shot at being able to accomplish that," Contreras said.
Before coming to Qunnipiac in 2017, Contreras was a long-time executive for media companies involved in newspapers, television and radio.
Connecticut Public board chair Tom Barnes said that background was only some of what made Contreras the right man for the job.
"He has a lot of experience in the digital side of the industry, which is obviously where everything is going," Barnes said. "We need to be part of that transition and I think Mark can, with his background, get us there."
Contreras said moving Connecticut Public's digital presence forward is indeed another one of his main objectives. And he said he plans to focus on the business end of the public broadcaster. He said he'd stay away from editorial decisions over news content.
"In order for a newsroom to do a good job, there has to be the independence... and to exercise independent news judgement," Contreras said. "That's just been part of the way I've approached media companies for the last three decades."
Connecticut Public Radio news director Jeff Cohen said there's positivity at the station about the hire.
"It looks like he has a very strong journalism background," Cohen said. "We're only getting to know each other now, but everyone's pretty optimistic about the future."
Franklin, the man Contreras replaces, saw Connecticut Public earn hundreds of broadcast industry awards during his tenure. The children's program "Barney & Friends" also went national under his watch.
But Franklin's time wasn't without controversy. A 2005 Hartford Courant article cited staff members who claimed he violated journalistic standards by trying to influence editorial decisions on programming to curry favor with sponsors. And in one case, one employee claimed Franklin threatened employees’ jobs if they didn't follow along, something Franklin denied at the time.
And in the final years of Franklin's tenure, Connecticut Public came through some difficult financial times.
According to the nonprofit's financial report in 2016, it ran an operational deficit of more than $200,000. But the 2017 and 2018 reports show there were budget surpluses, including more than $700,000 last year.
In 2017, the station's endowment was bolstered by a $31.6 million windfall through the Federal Communications Commission spectrum auction, which was designed to have television stations relinquish part of their digital spectrum space to allow for expanded wireless capacity.
Contreras said he couldn’t tell NEPR how much he will earn in his new position. According to 2017 tax documents, Franklin drew a salary of more than $358,000.
Contreras will start on March 5.
NOTE: New England Public Radio News reported and edited this story independently at the request of Connecticut Public Radio. No Connecticut Public Radio staff or leadership had oversight or reviewed the story before publication.