DEVELOPING STORY

Without notice, National Public Radio today canceled its African-American news show ‘News & Notes’ hosted by well-known broadcast and digital media journalist Farai Chideya—thus signaling the end of one of the best national radio newscasts dedicated to African-American news and views.

Citing insufficient levels of audience listeners and the lack of national underwriting, NPR sent an email to its staff announcing the cancellation of ‘News & Notes’ and ‘Day to Day.’ However, several staff members report a different reason given to them for the cancellation, which had nothing to do with audience levels or funding.

Contacting Executive Team at NPR

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In an email today, NPRs Interim President and CEO Dennis Haarsager said the following:

In late spring, we began to see a decrease in NPR corporate sponsorship, which makes up nearly a third of our operating budget. While we made budget cuts at that time and continued to do so as the economy faltered, all our revenue sources are under pressure. Corporate sponsorship has decreased even more sharply since mid-September. All industries, including the financial, automotive, and media industries, historically our biggest underwriters, are cutting back significantly. Additionally, the philanthropic foundations and major donors who support NPR are cautiously watching the economy and their future giving is uncertain.

The manageable $2 million budget deficit we projected in July for Fiscal Year 2009 has now risen to a projected $23 million deficit.

It is clear that this serious financial situation can’t be responsibly resolved through short-term or temporary cuts. Rather, we must take measures that provide long-term savings, and that preserve our effectiveness and ability to generate vital income in the years ahead.

Today, we are announcing the cancellation of News & Notes and Day to Day, and significant budget reductions across the organization. These cuts include the elimination of 64 filled and 21 unfilled positions, many of which are associated with the two cancelled programs. Positions have also been eliminated across NPR, including reporting, editorial, and production staffs; station services; digital media; research; communications; and administrative support. Overall, this is a 7% reduction in NPR’s current workforce.

It is important for you to understand why we chose to cancel News & Notes and Day to Day, and the implications for programming strategy and commitments. Neither program was attracting sufficient levels of audience or national underwriting necessary to sustain continued production under these tough financial circumstances.

Given the publicity that surrounded the bequest from Joan B. Kroc in 2003, it is understandable to wonder why NPR doesn’t draw on it at this time. Legal restrictions severely limit expenditure of the NPR endowment, which includes most of the bequest made by Mrs. Kroc.

Fortunately, even though the endowment lost value and did not generate earnings for this year, the NPR Foundation was able to fund a separate $10 million distribution against what NPR had budgeted for FY 2009. The NPR Board also authorized us to access up to $15 million from the NPR operating reserves, allowing us to cope with the immediate situation and limit the depth of the cuts to staff and programs.

In November, we sent a memo to all staff relaying our need to address growing budget concerns. In return, we received thoughtful budget suggestions from staff members across the organization. We reviewed them all, and investigated options such as furloughs and fringe benefit reductions. In the end, we concluded that it was necessary to eliminate some activities completely to achieve the long-term savings we require while protecting our core mission.

Laying off valued colleagues was a difficult decision and the last thing we wanted to do. You may have been directly affected by today’s announcement or work closely with someone who was. These cuts are based on the nature of positions, not a judgment of the contributions of those who are losing their jobs. We are losing talented and hardworking staff. The cuts are a reflection of the difficult economic times we are being forced to confront, and we know you will give those who are losing their jobs your personal support.

The show-related positions will end March 20, 2009, the date of both programs’ final broadcast. This date allows stations the necessary time to adjust their program schedules. Most of the remaining affected positions will end on January 12, 2009. All affected employees will receive payout of accrued and unused vacation time. Regular employees will receive NPR’s standard severance which is one day of severance for every month they have been continuously employed by NPR, to a maximum of 125 days, or about 6 months of pay. Regular staff will also be eligible for up to 6 months of continued health, dental, and vision insurance coverage and outplacement assistance.

In addition to these programming and staff changes, we are greatly restricting the budget for discretionary expenses such as travel, NPR-sponsored events, conferences, training, and consultants in FY09.

We have eliminated all FY09 merit increases for the senior team, which includes all vice presidents and executive staff. All other staff will receive their January merit increases as planned. (Severance packages for affected employees will include their January 1 salary increases.)

I have personally focused on the alignment of NPR’s senior team, our current executive position vacancies, and the roles of our senior vice presidents, in an effort to better align work and make changes that will contribute to the net savings for NPR. This resulted in the decision to reclassify several positions: Ellen Weiss, VP for News; Kathleen Jackson, VP for HR; and Joyce Slocum, VP for Legal Affairs and General Counsel are promoted to the SVP level. Debra May Hughes, Executive Director of Public Interactive, is promoted to VP. These changes were made to better reflect the scope of their responsibilities and contributions. Three of these were title changes and did not involve a change in pay.

Additionally, the Board of Directors has asked me to stay on as an Executive VP during the first six months of new CEO Vivian Schiller’s transition. I have also made a decision to eliminate the Senior Vice President of Strategy and Partnerships position, and Dana Davis Rehm has accepted a new role as SVP of Marketing, Communications, and External Relations. This expanded position replaces the currently vacant VP of Marketing and Communications.