New Hampshire Public Radio has backtracked on a decision to continue airing its longtime local program The Exchange after the departure of the show’s host.
CEO Jim Schachter announced Friday the decision to end the show rather than continue with a new host, citing financial challenges and strategic changes.
Laura Knoy, host of the weekday talk show for 25 years, shared May 4 that she would step down to “pursue longtime interests in writing, speaking, and community service.” At the time, the station said it was searching for a new EP and host for the show.
In a Friday email to staff obtained by Current, Schachter pointed to finances as the reason for the change. “We have to operate within our resources, and we need a strategy for being a strong and sustainable organization into the future,” he wrote. “We’ve been talking for the last year-and-a-half about NHPR’s long-term financial challenges, and our Development teams have made big strides toward closing the gap between our costs and our revenues. But we cannot put ourselves on solid, long-term ground without reducing our expenses. If we were to wait to act, we would face drastic cuts in the near future.”
The station’s most recent 990 tax form showed an operating loss during fiscal year 2020 of nearly $800,000. The form also shows that the station paid about $375,000 in 2019 to former CEO Betsy Gardella, who retired in 2018 following an investigation, the results of which were not publicly released.
NHPR will shift Morning Edition ahead an hour to fill the vacancy in its schedule. Schachter said in the email to staff that the station will bring the work of its podcast teams to Morning Edition and All Things Considered in “more regular and systematic ways” because the newsmagazines “are our best radio vehicles for extending the reach and impact of our journalism.”
Schachter told Current in an email that two producers of The Exchange are being reassigned to the station’s podcast teams, which are “brainstorming possibilities” for contributing to the newsmagazine broadcasts. He pointed to the station’s podcast Outside/In producing a biweekly two-way answering questions about nature and the environment.
“It’s not as if a new bridge needs to be built to make this possible,” he said. The podcast teams already work in the station’s newsroom “and are accustomed both to appearing on the magazine shows and creating content specifically for broadcast audiences,” Schachter said.
“By ending The Exchange now, as Laura Knoy steps down, we have a creative canvas, and some intellectual bandwidth, to develop fresh new ways to reach audiences – the majority of people in our state – that can’t participate in a live radio show during the workday,” Schachter said.
Other Exchange staffers were offered new positions at the station. Schachter added that the change was also made to help NHPR explore reaching new audiences across multiple platforms.
“We took more time to think and to review our strategy, budget and long-term financial posture, and how – within our resources – we best can meet the journalism needs of New Hampshire residents and ensure that NHPR thrives in the long haul,” he said.
Schachter acknowledged that the move will save NHPR money but declined to disclose how much. “NHPR’s finances are healthy now – and we are making choices that we believe will enable them to remain strong for years to come, with our members’, donors’ and sponsors’ continued support,” he said.
Donald Kreis, a former member of the station’s community advisory board and an occasional guest on The Exchange, called on Schachter in an open letter to reconsider canceling the show. The cancellation, he says, “punches a gaping hole through the center of public discourse — indeed, arguably democracy itself — in New Hampshire”
“Fiscal responsibility is obviously an important imperative for you and the Board of Directors,” Kreis wrote. “But if the financial model is inadequate to support the mission, changing the mission is not the answer — updating the financial model is.”