WBUR in Boston is the latest public radio station to undergo major organizational changes and job cuts triggered by financial challenges from the pandemic.
Following announcements of downsizing plans and program cancellations by APM/MPR and WBEZ Tuesday, WBUR CEO Margaret Low said Wednesday in a memo obtained by Current that 29 staffers have been laid off and production of Only a Game will end in September. Only a Game, a weekly national sports program, has been on the air for 27 years and airs on 260 stations.
Many of the layoffs affect part-time staffers, Low said in the memo, but she did not disclose which positions or departments were most affected.
However, three longtime senior staff members were among those laid off: Executive News Director Tom Melville; John Davidow, managing director of digital; and Peter Lydotes, director of operations. Sam Fleming, managing director of news and programming, will retire this year, Low said.
Seven unfilled positions will also be eliminated, Low added.
WBUR will end its role in the podcast Modern Love, which will be taken over by the New York Times. The station is also ending production of Kind World as of July.
The job cuts and reorganization are necessary “because of the economic fallout of the past several months,” Low said. “The changes I’m making are necessary to streamline the organization and to reflect the budget realities of the moment,” she said.
Low plans to present a budget of $40 million for FY21 to WBUR’s board, nearly $6 million less than the budget approved for FY20, she said. The station is also cutting travel and marketing costs and canceling some of its contracted services.
Low, who began leading the station in January, said she is taking a 10% pay cut.
Members of WBUR’s SAG-AFTRA union said in a statement that they “still don’t have a complete picture of these cuts” but that the affected employees represent the loss of 120 years of combined experience in the bargaining unit alone.
“The average WBUR tenure of the members we know to be affected is 14 years,” the statement said. “The cuts have been widespread: they will affect reporters, producers, announcers and engineers — as well as a number of managers and people who have worked behind the scenes to help our station thrive.”
The union also said in the statement that Low “declined to consult with union leaders before making layoffs — and repeatedly refused to consider buyouts, furloughs, or pay reductions that have preserved jobs at NPR and have the support of many members of our unit.”
Low disputed the union’s statement that she declined to consult with its leaders before the layoffs. “It’s “simply not true,” she said in a statement to Current. “We negotiated the terms of the layoffs with the union, even though they are not part of the proposed contract — and added 10 weeks severance in the final negotiations in direct response to a union request,” she said.
However, she confirmed that she did not consider reducing staff costs through buyouts, furloughs or pay cuts.
“I’m determined to diversify our ranks and continue to attract the kind of top-notch journalists that BUR listeners have come to expect,” she said in the statement. “And that is immeasurably harder if we impose pay cuts.”
“Furloughs implicitly assume we’ll be back to prior budget levels relatively quickly. I can’t say with any confidence that that’s the case. We continue to attract strong support from our members and big-dollar donors. But our underwriting has taken a huge hit. And it’s not clear that’s coming back anytime soon.”
WBUR management and the union came to a tentative contract agreement last week.
“We are also dismayed that Boston University and WBUR management implemented these layoffs while our unit is voting to ratify our first contract — and that Low conveyed the news mostly through other managers and without speaking to each affected employee personally,” the statement said.
Low is imposing a series of cost-cutting measures, including no wage increases for nonunion employees next fiscal year. SAG-AFTRA members will receive increases negotiated in the new contract. She’s also suspending WBUR’s contributions to employee retirement funds.
The restructuring unveiled by Low is designed to address “editorial excellence,” efficiency, sustainability, racial equity and audience growth, Low said.
The reorganization includes changes to the local news team. Dan Mauzy, the newsroom’s managing editor, will become executive editor for news. The editorial side of the digital team will also be moved into the news division, she said.
In other job changes, Dan Guzman, senior producer of Morning Edition, and Jonathan Cain, senior supervising producer of All Things Considered, are moving up into executive producer roles for their shows. The station is also hiring for new positions in the newsroom, including a second managing editor, a deputy managing editor and a managing producer.
The restructuring also adds a new product team led by Joan DiMicco, executive director of WBUR’s BizLab, whose new role will be “to make sure that every experience with WBUR, on any platform, is exceptional,” Low wrote. BizLab is being absorbed into WBUR and DiMicco’s new job title is executive director of product, Low said in the statement to Current.
In total, Low announced eight staff members that will see changes to their roles in the reorganization. A WBUR news article about the job changes pointed out that seven of the affected employees are white.
In the news article, Low said that “the people that I’m promoting are incredibly talented and deserving. I do wish we had a bigger pool of leaders of color — people of color — in the organization.”
In her memo, she mentioned the police killing of George Floyd and the protests that followed before describing her commitment to addressing issues of racial equity within WBUR.
“This reckoning demands that we confront elements of systemic racism,” she said.
“WBUR is not exempt from this examination — we have a lot of work to do,” she said. “And it can’t be addressed by simply restating our values of inclusion. This effort must be different in kind and substance than anything we’ve done before. It requires change in every aspect of our culture, our coverage, our hiring and our leadership development. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m committed to leading the way and not letting up.”
Update: This article has been updated to include a statement from Low.