PBS cuts jobs, changes up departments

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PBS reduced its staff headcount last week by about 6%, according to a memo obtained by Current.

A PBS spokesperson confirmed the workforce reduction but did not specify how many positions were affected.

In the memo to GMs, PBS President Paula Kerger said that though the organization took preliminary measures to reduce costs and create efficiencies, it needed to cut expenses further to manage the economic uncertainties created by the coronavirus pandemic.

“To that end, last week, we reduced PBS’s overall headcount by 6%, including a combination of layoffs and elimination of open positions,” Kerger wrote. “These actions, in addition to the cost-cutting measures that have already been implemented, will help PBS navigate this challenging period. We will continue to manage our business dynamically in response to the evolving economic environment.”

The reduction affected multiple departments within PBS, according to a spokesperson.

According to a separate memo, PBS instituted a hiring freeze for all non-critical roles, reduced the use of consultants and contractors, eliminated merit increases for PBS staff and halted non-essential travel. PBS declined to confirm whether it eliminated merit increases for executives.

The workforce reduction at PBS follows layoffs at Houston Public Media, KPBS in San Diego, Chicago Public Media, WBUR in Boston, American Public Media and VPM in Richmond, Va. PBS’ board unanimously approved a fiscal year 2021 budget this month that keeps revenue from station dues level while reducing spending on content and marketing.

‘Multi-channel fundraising strategies’

In the memo, Kerger also announced several structural changes within PBS.

“As you know, last year we began the process of consolidating and strengthening station support functions under the leadership of Jim Dunford in Station Services, bringing together station leadership development, digital competence and system-facing communications,” Kerger wrote. “We are now completing that process with several additional changes, which will support our efforts to offer solutions at scale and serve stations in an integrated way.”

Kerger said PBS is creating a fundraising strategy team to be led by Jerry Liwanag, VP of fundraising programming. Liwanag will move from general audience programming into station services.

“This team will combine fundraising programming and development services,” Kerger wrote. “They will focus on implementing multi-channel fundraising strategies to help member stations maximize revenue opportunities. We are grateful to Jerry for taking on these additional responsibilities during this critical time.”

Kerger also said that Max Duke, VP of station strategy and development, will oversee several station engagement roles. “Until now, station services positions lived in multiple departments within PBS, including GA Programming and Children’s Media & Education,” she wrote. “We are bringing those roles together to ensure that we provide integrated support to stations around programming and initiatives. Max’s team will also assist stations with digital product solutions and provide enhanced professional development opportunities.”

PBS also told GMs that it is working on “addressing systemic issues of racial injustice and inequality” by enhancing programming, developing diverse talent, creating a diversity council that reports to the CEO and cultivating diverse board members.

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