Layoffs reveal challenges of sustaining public media’s journalism expansion

Print More

Illustration by Chris Campbell/Shutterstock

Public media is bleeding talent. Public media can’t afford to do this. Public media can’t afford not to.

The stream of social media posts and news about layoffs in public media has become a steady drumbeat to our news coverage. You can find and follow this dramatic downsizing trend by visiting the Layoffs page on our website and subscribing to our newsletter.

The whole public media world is watching … and holding its breath. So far, the losses are primarily in public radio, though WNET Group in New York City, among the top producers for PBS, has also made difficult decisions to let go of staff. American Public Media and NPR were the first to downsize, in 2022 and 2023. Since then, it’s been one station after another, especially since March.

Why is this happening? It’s certainly a confluence of many factors. Audience declines brought a downturn in revenues at a time when the costs of doing everything went up. Many terrific podcasts launched but couldn’t bring in enough underwriting to sustain themselves. That happened at NPR, PRX, LAist, New York Public Radio, Colorado Public Radio and others.

Then there’s the post-pandemic reality that many public media staffers now prefer to work from home. Many leaders realize that one benefit of WFH is that employees are happier. Bringing them back full time may not make sense. Unused space at stations could be a new source of revenue.

Public radio has invested in growing its local news service, in some cases responding to hedge-fund acquisitions of legacy newspapers. Stations that hired refugees from daily newspapers have boosted their newsroom’s investigative chops and digital presence. And, in the case of Chicago Public Media’s acquisition of the Sun-Times, one goal is to boost service to BIPOC audiences — which all news organizations desperately need.  

CPB data on the workforce of its grantees shows that stations increased their staffing by nearly 900 employees from 2022 to 2023. Without a doubt, a good chunk of that growth was a hiring spree of journalists. CPB reports that stations hired nearly 1,000 journalists between 2014 and 2022, when a total of 4,409 journalists were working in station newsrooms. I had some indication of trouble brewing in public media’s employment trends before layoffs began to accelerate. Current’s job board,, had an eye-popping decline, from 864 jobs posted in 2022 to 560 positions advertised in 2023.

Station participation in our Public Media Virtual Career Fair also took a dive. For two years about 60 organizations, including NPR, PBS and APM, sponsored booths to recruit and build pipelines of diverse talent. In 2024, only 31 organizations sponsored booths.

In the public media world, trickle-down economics is real. When public media thrives, Current thrives, too. Current feels the pain when public media is struggling financially. I feel the pain of so many journalists who’ve brought their creative energies to public media — hardworking professionals who must now look for jobs at a time when many media organizations are shrinking. Who among us has unlocked the secret to a sustainable local news service?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *