Buffalo Toronto Public Media has laid off three staff members and ended contracts with two others, according to CEO Donald Boswell.
The cuts come as the organization plans for possible cuts to state support for New York’s public broadcasters. Policy experts have told Buffalo Toronto Public Media that a 20% cut to state funding for public broadcasters is possible because of the impact of the pandemic on New York’s economy, according to a station spokesperson. In fiscal year 2020, nine public television stations and 17 public radio stations received a total of $14 million in funds through the New York State Office of Educational Television and Public Broadcasting.
“Our thought was, ‘Well, we want to be ahead of that,’” Boswell told Current. The organization’s fiscal year began Wednesday, and the organization decided it was “better to deal with it now going into a new fiscal year than in the midst of the year try to find those funds at that time,” Boswell said.
The layoffs included Omar Fetouh, a host and online editor, and reporter Chris Caya. An underwriting staffer was also laid off, Boswell confirmed. The organization also ended the independent contracts of two people based in a Toronto office who focused on underwriting.
Like many public media stations, Buffalo Toronto Public Media revenue is seeing declines in income from sponsorship, membership and events, Boswell said.
“On the radio side, we thought we had some leeway there because we have the largest news staff in western New York, be it public or commercial,” he said. “And we just felt that since people were working from home right now that we maybe don’t need as many people out in the field” because of the virus, Boswell said.
The organization plans to take another look at the budget in January, midway through the fiscal year, to determine whether to make additional cuts. “If it doesn’t look better, and depending upon where we are financially, we can either make some cuts again for those next six months,” Boswell said. “Or if things get better, what things can we … put back into the budget?”