Even APM, WGBH trim their payrolls

Originally published in Current, Dec. 22, 2008
By Mike Janssen

Dozens of employees at stations and networks around the country found themselves in the same boat as NPR’s dismissed staffers in recent weeks, and another pubradio network canceled a show to save costs.

American Public Media announced Dec. 19 [2008] that it will shutter Weekend America, its two-hour weekend digest, as of Jan. 31. The program airs on 134 stations.

Stations from Maine to California are paring staffs in response to declines in most major streams of income — underwriting, foundation support, donations from individuals and state appropriations.

APM said Weekend America suffered as the weak economy hurt its prospects for carriage and its foundation and corporate support. Its cancellation will affect 13 full- and part-time positions, the network said. As of Current’s deadline Friday, a network spokeswoman did not know whether the show’s employees would be laid off or reassigned as it ceases production.

The cancellation in part addressed a revenue shortfall upwards of $2 million faced by APM and Minnesota Public Radio, its sister regional network. The number of listeners donating to MPR has remained steady, but average gifts have declined.

Among layoffs elsewhere in the country:

Boston: WGBH announced Dec. 19 that it will cut 12 positions, amounting to 2 percent of its workforce. The jobs are in design and other areas, said spokeswoman Lucy Sholley.

The broadcaster aims to alleviate a budget shortfall — Sholley would not reveal a dollar figure. It has frozen salaries for management and filling of vacant positions and reduced capital purchases. Membership revenue has held steady, but corporate sponsorship has declined, Sholley said.

The Associated Employees of the Educational Foundation, WGBH’s in-house union, agreed to a restructuring of the network’s design department and to accept smaller wage increases next fiscal year. Chris Pullman, WGBH’s v.p. of design for 35 years, was no longer there to fight for the design unit; he retired earlier this fall.

Pennsylvania: Two joint licensees have trimmed their staffs as they absorb rescissions of state funding. The state government has reduced support for stations by 4.5 percent as it struggles to close a deficit of $1.5 billion.

As of the end of November, WITF in Harrisburg anticipated a loss of $80,000 in state funding. The station also lost $120,000 in sponsorships and other activities with the state government, a key client due to WITF’s location in the state capital, says President Kathleen Pavelko. Underwriting and membership revenue also showed signs of softening.

WITF trimmed spending by about $500,000, laying off five full-time employees in development, sales and graphic design. It froze five vacant full-time jobs, cut training and travel costs and gave its staff a week of unpaid vacation. Employees were required to contribute more to health-care costs as well.

The station’s senior v.p. took a 5 percent cut in pay, while Pavelko took a 10 percent reduction.

The state funding rescissions also spurred cutbacks at WVIA in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, which expects to lose upwards of $200,000. The station cut four full-time jobs, froze other positions and implemented salary cuts similar to WITF’s.

WVIA also suspended production of local weekend programs, cutting a full-time producer’s job, and laid off a documentary producer whose position was funded by philanthropies. The grantmakers said they wanted to redirect their support to human-services needs, says President Bill Kelly.

Pennsylvania’s budget woes have also jeopardized the future of the Pennsylvania Public Television Network, an independent state agency that channels state funds and offers support services to eight public TV stations in the state, including WVIA and WITF. On top of the cuts to station grants, state government reduced its funding of PPTN by 20 percent, says President Sylvia Strobel.

PPTN must now determine whether it can continue operations, Strobel says. It has reduced its broadband capacity and scrapped all purchases of new equipment, some of which is crucial for network operations, she says. With 19 staffers, the agency already runs on a skeletal crew. PPTN will learn more about its fate in February, when Pennsylvania’s governor presents his budget for the next fiscal year. Smaller stations serving rural markets would be hardest hit if the agency were forced to close, Strobel says.

“No one really knows when this will end or where it will go,” she says.

Chicago: Chicago Public Radio announced Dec. 5 the dismissal of 11 full-time employees — 9 percent of its staff. Declines in average listener donations and projected limited growth in corporate underwriting have left the network with a $1.5 million budget gap.

Among the employees let go were Shawn Campbell, producer; Darlene Jackson, host/producer; Gianofer Fields, producer; Usama Alshaibi, a host/producer with Vocalo.org, the station’s experimental web/radio hybrid; Stacey Keefe, director of corporate sponsorship; Lori Goldstein, campaign director; and Josh Andrews, director of Internet strategy.

Maine: Maine Public Broadcasting Network will lay off six employees and freeze three open jobs to offset a drop of $548,000 in state and federal support, the network announced Dec. 18. It will decide later this month which employees will be dismissed but plans to spare its reporting staff.

MPBN will also reduce salaries by 5 percent to 20 percent throughout the network, with senior managers and President Jim Dowe taking the largest cuts. It will suspend contributions to employees’ 403(b) plans as well.

In addition, MPBN will shut down two FM transmitters—one in Calais, the other in Fort Kent—and a TV transmitter in Calais. The network will restore the transmitters and return surplus funds to employees if its finances improve.

Part of MPBN’s losses stemmed from a decision in Congress to eliminate the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development grants. The Maine network received about $400,000 a year from the program until its cancellation last year.

Sacramento, Calif.: Public TV station KVIE laid off 10 percent of its staffers—six full-time and one part-time. The positions were in production, programming, marketing and on-air fundraising, said David Lowe, g.m.

The station saw a “sudden and severe downturn” in its December on-air pledge drive, Lowe said, expecting to come in 35 percent below its goal of $1.1 million. Viewer support makes up more than half of KVIE’s budget. The Sacramento area has been especially hard hit by the foreclosure crisis.

KVIE was also unable to secure funding for a second season of California Heartland, a statewide show funded by Bank of America and a local foundation.                                   

Web page posted Dec. 22, 2008
Copyright 2008 by Current LLC

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ARROW >64 NPR jobs go, half at L.A. outpost


In Chicago, WBEZ was already stretched financially by unexpected costs for its experimental Vocalo station.


Canceling Weekend America doesn't solve APM's deficit problem, but it helps, says MinnPost blogger David Brauer.

Sacramento Bee reports layoffs at KVIE.

WVIA President Bill Kelly describes cost-cutting measures at Scranton-area station.

The Chicago Reader sums up the layoffs at Chicago Public Radio.

Listeners in remote Fort Kent and Calais, Maine, will have to go online to hear Maine Public Radio, reports the Portland Press Herald.


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