San Francisco’s KQED eliminates 34 positions

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Jason O’Rear/KQED

Nineteen staffers at KQED in San Francisco are being laid off, 11 are taking early retirement or voluntary buyouts, and four open jobs will not be filled, spokesperson Peter Cavagnaro confirmed. 

KQED’s news department had previously reported on the job cuts. 

The joint licensee is also ending the podcast Rightnowish July 18, CCO Holly Kernan said in an email to Current. The podcast started in late 2019 and profiled Bay Area artists and culture makers, Kernan said. 

“We have been proud to share these profiles, but the program has been steadily losing audience over the past few years,” Kernan said. “In the interest of our need to grow our digital audiences, we plan to re-dedicate some of those resources to programming initiatives with a potentially wider audience reach.”

CEO Michael Isip told staff in an email earlier this month that he anticipated 18 to 25 employees would be laid off. Isip had announced buyouts in April because of a “higher than expected budget deficit at the end of this fiscal year.” 

“As television and radio broadcast audiences have declined, KQED has had to make additional investments to grow our digital audiences and create a path towards a sustainable future. While those investments have yielded positive growth, they haven’t met our growth projections as quickly as we forecasted them to,” Isip said in a Friday email to Current. “Additionally, more recently, we have been hit with higher than expected expense increases such as health care benefits, PBS member dues, and utilities.”

Staff cuts along with operational and programming changes should lead to approximately $4.5 million in annual savings, said Cavagnaro.

KQED started the year with a $6.2 million deficit, and recent forecasts show an additional $2.3 million shortfall, he said. 

Six television master control employees represented by the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians were told this week they would lose their jobs in November, as KQED wants to transfer their work to Centralcast in Syracuse, N.Y., according to Carrie Biggs-Adams, president of NABET-CWA Local 51. 

The union is seeking arbitration over the move because it argues that KQED is not allowed to subcontract this work, Biggs-Adams said. 

KQED also plans to eliminate overnight shifts for radio announcer operator positions, which will lead to two or three people either retiring early or having to change schedules, Biggs-Adams said. The contract allows this move, she said, but a similar attempt previously failed. The union’s hope is it will fail again so the employees get their jobs back.

“These are people who have served KQED well and wish to continue to serve and make a good product and put it on the air,” Biggs-Adams said. 

Details of KQED’s layoffs come as public media stations across the country have slashed jobs. Boston’s GBH laid off 31 people Wednesday as it faces a $7 million budget gap.

María Esquinca, a producer of KQED’s The Bay, posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that she was taking a voluntary buyout. The post also included an image of a slide that confirmed the number of job cuts. 

Esquinca said in her post she could not continue to work for a media organization that “doesn’t call a genocide a genocide,” which she did not explain further. 

“This was not an easy decision,” Esquinca said. “But I’m following my gut and my gut never fails me.”

This article has been updated with details provided by KQED and Biggs-Adams.

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