C-SPAN Founder Stepping Down As CEO, Reflects On Changing Media Landscape

March 19, 2012 11:35 a.m.

After more than three decades at the helm, Brian Lamb is stepping down as chief executive of C-SPAN, the nonprofit cable television network beloved by political junkies that he founded in 1978. The company’s co-presidents, Rob Kennedy and Susan Swain, will become co-CEOs effective April 1.“It’s time to pass it on and let them run the place,” Lamb, 70, told TPM Monday. Kennedy and Swain “get along beautifully” and have complimentary talents, with Kennedy specializing in technology and Swain specializing in programming and marketing, Lamb said.

Lamb steps down as CEO in a wildly different media landscape than when he started. As the head of a network that deals in long-form programs, not soundbites, Lamb could be bitter toward the split-second pace of today’s news cycle, but he spoke enthusiastically and optimistically about the future of news and information.

“It’s a fabulously open system compared to what I was doing when I started,” he said. “Anybody can come in, create and get their voices out. That’s tremendous.”

Lamb is proud that C-SPAN has given all legislators a voice over the years. Before C-SPAN, it was only the “star” politicians who got the chance to speak in front of cameras, he said. With C-SPAN, people get a bird’s-eye view of Congress or a candidate on the campaign trail. “We’re so much better off with everybody having an opportunity to speak,” Lamb said. As Lamb reflected on Monday, Mitt Romney wrapped up a speech at the University of Chicago. As the speech ended, the cameras stayed on Romney as he shook hands with the audience. “We’re going to dwell on this for a while,” Lamb said. The raw video gives viewers a chance to “see what it’s like to be there. It puts you there.”

Lamb said he is proud that the network is still able to do that after 33 years. Of roughly 200 employees, 60 have been at the company for 25 years or more. “I’m proud of the fact we are together, we’re still here.” They have cable executives to thank for it, he said. Cable providers pay six cents a month per customer to put C-SPAN on the air. “It’s not like we have the sexiest product,” Lamb said. “It’s a service.”

Lamb won’t be walking away completely. He will take on a new role as executive chairman of the C-SPAN board and will host his weekly show, “Q and A.”

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