In letter to staff, NPR CEO calls layoffs ‘gut-wrenching’

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April Simpson/Current

NPR CEO John Lansing addressed employees for the first time Friday since the network began laying off 10% of its staff this week. 

“The position eliminations represent a difficult but necessary step,” Lansing wrote in an all-staff email. “While we have made these decisions with the future in mind, I do not want to suggest that the role eliminations are somehow an exercise to reinvent NPR. These decisions were forced upon us during a severe budget crisis. We have acted as transparently as we could, while respecting those who are affected.”

In the email, Lansing acknowledged that the “gut-wrenching decisions involve respected, hardworking, valued people doing deeply meaningful work.” He did not confirm a final number of layoffs because the network is still in negotiations with the Digital Media United bargaining unit, he said.

Lansing wrote that in addition to the 10% of staff being laid off beginning Wednesday, the network eliminated more than 80 vacant positions. He added that some staffers volunteered to be laid off and that the cuts affected both staff and management positions. 

As part of the cuts, NPR said Thursday that it is ending four podcasts: Invisibilia, Rough Translation, Louder Than a Riot and Everyone & Their Mom.

“Personally, I am heartbroken, angry, and frankly baffled,” Camila Domonoske, an NPR reporter and Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists union steward, told Current. “Management has eliminated the jobs of some of my most thoughtful, committed and wildly talented colleagues whose work was absolutely core to NPR’s mission and future goals. This entire week has been devastating.”

Domonoske said the SAG-AFTRA union was able to negotiate for improvements in the severance package for employees losing their jobs. The improvements went beyond what was guaranteed in the collective bargaining agreement. 

“Of the folks who we know have been laid off, they were doing incredible, important work,” Domonoske said. “That seems, to many of us, absolutely central to what NPR’s goals for the future are. It’s just hard to wrap our minds around how this is supposed to protect NPR’s future.”

Regarding NPR’s stated “North Star” of reaching younger and more diverse audiences, “we’ve now canceled podcasts that we know were doing that,” Domonoske said. “A future that has more platforms — we’ve laid off people who are deeply involved in NPR’s work on expanding our audience across new platforms.”

Lansing said in his email that the cuts “did not disproportionately impact people of color and other historically marginalized groups.” He added that the demographic makeup of the workforce will be “substantially the same” as before the reduction, including the proposed cuts to the digital unit.

Staff demographics will “continue to be around” 42% people of color, 58% women, 26% women of color, 17% men of color, 4% who identify as disabled, and 2% transgender/non-binary/gender non-conforming identity, Lansing wrote. 

Lansing reiterated that the cuts were made to address a $30 million budget shortfall caused by a decline in corporate sponsorship, as well as “projections that the economic uncertainty driving this decline may span a few years.” NPR’s financials “continue to track as we have predicted,” he wrote.

As Lansing and NPR’s board prepare for a strategic planning retreat in May, they will be focused on “rebuilding our organization for a sustainable financial future and amplifying the excellence of our 24/7 public service journalism and the strength of our mission,” Lansing said. That will include being “laser focused” on reaching the potential of the NPR Network, he wrote.

“Creating a unified Content division at NPR is a high priority in this,” Lansing wrote. “While a new Chief Content Officer in the future will be a key leader in that, we are not waiting for that hire to begin this work. We have taken some steps already and there are many more to come.”

Lansing announced in September that the network was planning to hire a CCO who would oversee the programming and news divisions. 

Employees whose layoffs have so far been announced on social media include:

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