Staffers at Seattle’s KUOW will lose jobs as station revamps drive-time programming

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KUOW in Seattle is reorganizing drive-time staffing by eliminating seven positions focused on the time slots and filling seven new roles, Chief Content Officer Jennifer Strachan announced in a memo to staff Wednesday.

KUOW is making the changes to “deliver more distinctive, rigorous news programming” during drive times, Strachan wrote in the memo obtained by Current.

The station now has a host and a newscaster during each drive-time shift. It will combine those duties under one host for each show. “This is an effective model at many (if not most) successful public radio stations,” Strachan wrote. In addition, hosts will no longer handle board operation duties.

The structure of the station’s drive-time programs doesn’t “allow for the production of a comprehensive, timely news show,” according to a Q&A attached to Strachan’s memo. “It is the right time to move away from filling time to creating an intentional, daily news program and develop a singular, recognizable voice for the shows.”

KUOW is eliminating positions held by hosts Emily Fox and Kim Malcolm, newscasters Lisa Brooks and Jamala Henderson, and newsmagazine producers Tami Kosch, Rob Wood and Stephen Gomes. Strachan said the changes would go into effect in 90 days.

The new positions to be filled include morning and afternoon hosts, senior producers, board operators and a reporter. The jobs will involve “substantially different roles and responsibilities than the existing positions,” Strachan wrote.

KUOW is encouraging the employees whose roles are being eliminated to apply for the new job openings, which were listed Thursday. “We expect that some employees will find a good match for their skills and experience and some may not,” Strachan wrote.

In explaining the decision, the Q&A shared by Strachan pointed to upcoming changes to NPR’s newsmagazines.

“NPR’s research has shown people are no longer relying on ‘Morning Edition’ for their first news in the morning,” it said. “As a result, NPR is changing the clock to go back to two hourly newscasts, which includes reducing the overall length of the newscasts. NPR is also making both Morning Edition and All Things Considered more live and less produced. As a result our local news should match NPR in sounding more live and more up-to-date.”

When asked about the changes, Gemma Hooley, NPR’s VP of member partnership, said only that “the conversation about the news magazine clocks is constant and ongoing as audience needs evolve.” She declined to comment on whether NPR is shifting the newsmagazines’ focus to more live content.

[UPDATE: After this article was first posted, an NPR spokesperson emailed this statement from Hooley to Current: “The [KUOW memo] quoted is inaccurate and misleading. We have been having conversations with dozens of stations as the first step in a broader conversation with all our Members about some potential changes to the Morning Edition clock, based on audience needs as they evolve, and the feedback we receive frequently from program directors. Obviously, no decisions would be made about clock changes without in-depth consultations with all stakeholders, followed by careful review. We were unaware of KUOW’s plans and learned of them only in media reports. NPR has no influence over or role in stations’ staffing decisions.”]

Among other changes to its show clocks made in 2014, NPR added an additional newscast to Morning Edition.

The changes at KUOW come less than two months after some station staffers elected to join the SAG-AFTRA union. The union and management have not begun bargaining.

KUOW management notified union staff less than 20 minutes before announcing the reorganization, the station’s union organizing committee said in an email to staff Wednesday obtained by Current.

“We understand why many of you feel this roll out was unprofessional, and we share your frustrations,” the email said.

SAG-AFTRA representatives are demanding to bargain with KUOW management “over the effects of this reorganization on our membership, and gathering information about management’s actions so we can evaluate (and exercise) all of the rights available to us under the law,” the email said.

The union plans to hold unit meetings on Thursday to discuss bargaining.

“SAG-AFTRA was notified of this change this morning and we have offered a 90-day window to consider their feedback and responses,” the Q&A attached to Strachan’s memo said. “We fully expect and welcome a conversation with the union about the changes outlined above.”

2 thoughts on “Staffers at Seattle’s KUOW will lose jobs as station revamps drive-time programming

  1. I question KUOW’s reasons for this staff reduction and reallocation of positions. I don’t believe I will be a better informed citizen as a result. The last change in the mgmt team resulted in seeming round the clock on-air messaging to the point of obnoxious-ness. It continues today. I’m a former pubradio manager and development director. You seem to be missing your fundraising targets and for good reason: the incessant fundraising and reminders to contribute. I’m a major donor. I feel KUOW is drifting from its twin missions of public news service and timely local information. Pls reevaluate your approach or you will lose supporters like me. Thanks for listening.

  2. I don’t have the background to comment on what drives organizations like this at higher levels, but I must say I have been so turned off by Kim Malcolm and the “Goldilocks, 2nd grade teacher” kind of smarmy way of sugar-coating the news. It was indeed creating a stark difference between the more serious and sober kind of delivery we got from the national-level announcers, to the very provincial and overly-dramatized kind of delivery we hear from our local presenters.

    I don’t need them to put a smile on my face or to interpret the news for me, just *deliver* the news and allow me the freedom to form my own opinions. Really, Kim seems like a very, very, very super-sweet person, but that is not what I need or want for news delivery.

    I prefer the British model, where there is not so much personality cult, like on NPR they say 18 times an hour who they are (“and I’m Ari Shapiro and I’m Kim Malcom” and so on, and I’m -whoever). My own desire instead is for a neutral service, just delivering the news with a minimum of inflection and added drama and announcer names etc. I guess they assume the average person listens to KUOW for about 9 mins. Maybe it’s true.

    And to really finish my rant, when they cancelled Swing Years and Beyond, beloved up and down the West coast of N.America for so many years, they totally lost me. I don’t care for the direction they are heading at all and won’t donate any longer.

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