Citing a projected $23-million deficit, NPR cuts staff, shuttering News & Notes, Day to Day
For many days now, employees at National Public Radio have been buzzing with rumors that the brass planned severe cuts, particularly on the network's West Coast office. So when top news executive Ellen Weiss traveled there this week, it was not taken as a good sign.
Now NPR has let the shoe drop, citing an unexpected projected $23-million shortfall as the motivation behind a 7 percent staff reduction and the cancellation of two programs produced from its West Coast offices, Day to Day and News & Notes. In all, 64 filled positions and 21 unfilled jobs will be eliminated from a total 889; both shows will air until March 20.
The Washington Post notes this will be the first, company-wide layoffs in 25 years and, along with the cancellation of the youth-oriented show the Bryant Park Project, marks the end of several shows NPR had developed to try reaching out to new audiences.
Longtime blog readers may recognize News & Notes -- it is one of two NPR shows regularly featuring issues related to people of color and was originally hosted by former MSNBC and BET anchor Ed Gordon, now hosted by Farai Chideya. Here's a story I did two years ago on the program. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay area listeners can only hear these shows on satellite radio, online or over WUSF-FM's secondary HD radio channel.
The move would seem to gut NPR's relatively new West Coast office and comes amid near-record listenership on air (26.4-million per week) and online (8-million visits to NPR.org per month).
I'm hip deep in quite a few things, so I won't have time to do much original reporting on this today. But you can click below to read the news release just floated by NPR.*
Washington, D.C.; December 10, 2008 – Confronted by an uncertain economy and a sharp decline in current and projected revenues from corporate underwriting, NPR today announced that it will reduce its workforce by 7 percent and cut expenses. The difficult moves come despite NPR reaching near-record audience levels on-air and online, with 26.4 million people listening to NPR programs each week and 8 million people visiting NPR.org each month.
A significant number of the personnel cuts result from the upcoming cancellation of two NPR produced programs – Day to Day and News & Notes. Both programs, broadcast on NPR Member stations nationwide, will remain on the air through March 20, 2009.
Staff and expense reductions will be made in reporting, editorial and production areas; station services; digital media; research; communications and administrative support. A total of 64 filled positions have been eliminated against NPR’s current staff of 889, 21 open positions will not be filled and travel and discretionary expenses have been cut across the organization.
“The difficult decision to cancel two programs and eliminate the jobs of valued NPR employees was made after an exhaustive review of our entire organization, and with the greatest reluctance,” said Dennis Haarsager, NPR’s Interim President and CEO. “With all of NPR’s revenue sources under pressure, these actions were necessary to responsibly stabilize our finances and put NPR on a realistic path.”
In July, NPR projected a relatively manageable $2 million deficit for fiscal year 2009. With the rapid downturn in the U.S. economy this fall, corporate sponsorships – NPR’s second-largest source of funding after fees paid to NPR by stations – have declined and projections have dropped precipitously, raising the projected deficit to $23 million, and prompting the need for significant and immediate reductions in expenses. To help NPR align its budget, the Board of Directors has authorized NPR to draw down its operating reserves by a maximum of 30 percent in FY09 (10/1/08-9/30/09). Legal restrictions severely limit expenditure of the NPR endowment, which includes the 2003 bequest made by Joan B. Kroc.
“It’s crucial to realize that these programming changes are being driven by a loss in revenue, not relevance,” said Ellen Weiss, NPR’s Senior Vice President for News. “With near-record audience levels, now more than ever people are relying on NPR to better understand the extraordinary events occurring in the world.”
“News & Notes and Day to Day are staffed by smart, talented and hardworking journalists,” Weiss continued. “Today’s announcement is not a judgment of the work they did, but a careful decision about investing in the programming and services that will have the greatest potential to make an impact on a broad audience, and serve the most public radio stations.”