National Public Radio is canceling “News & Notes” and “Day to Day” effective in March, and the network is reducing its work force by 7 percent, NPR announced on Wednesday.
A projected $2 million deficit for fiscal year 2009 has become $23 million with the downturn in the economy, the network said.
“Neither program was attracting sufficient levels of audience or national underwriting necessary to sustain continued production under these tough financial circumstances,” Dennis Haarsager, interim president and CEO, said in a message to NPR affiliates.“The two shows will go off the air on March 20, and 22 journalists working for them will lose their jobs, including hosts Madeleine Brand and Farai Chideya,” NPR’s David Folkenflik reported on “All Things Considered.”
“Beyond the two shows, another 12 journalists will lose their jobs throughout NPR News,” he said, naming Jacki Lyden and John McChesney. [On Thursday 's "Morning Edition," he added Kim Masters, Ketzel Levine and Victoria O'Hara, quoting O'Hara as challenging management at a staff meeting Wednesday to accept responsibility for poor judgment.]
Folkenflik noted that more than 300 would remain, but later in the day, Bob Butler, a board member of the National Association of Black Journalists, disclosed that Doug Mitchell, an NPR employee of more than 20 years who has trained scores of young journalists of color to enter broadcasting, was also among those laid off.
Mitchell is project manager for NPR’s Next Generation Radio, which among other charges runs a training project during the summer conventions of the journalist-of-color organizations and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. Next Generation Radio promotes itself as “training the future of public radio.” Mitchell, who confirmed his layoff on Thursday, said he would continue to work with the journalist organizations, but NPR said Thursday that the Next Generation Radio program, started by Mitchell in 2000, would end.
“The choice to cut the Next Generation program was made with the greatest regret,” spokeswoman Anna Christopher said. “We are proud the Next Generations� accomplishments and the dedication of the staff and all those associated with it over the years. If we were not forecasting such a severe downturn in our revenue we would not have made this decision. Given the limitations on what we could financially sustain, we chose instead to maintain NPR�s paid internship program, which over time has brought many young and diverse people into temporary and permanent jobs at NPR.”
The Next Generation program is external, unlike NPR’s internship program. “The external (next gen) projects were by specific design, geared toward attracting students who could not get into NPR’s intern program,” Mitchell told Journal-isms by e-mail, “and yes, these were by and large, people of color. Or, better still, to find them and THEN get them interest[ed] in NPR’s intern program by working one-to-one-by-side for a week with some of the best and brightest of public radio and who were also of color. In a way it was a means to prove we existed within public radio.”
Mitchell’s departure also highlighted persistent grumblings about the fate of men of color at the network. One employee named two newsroom managers: Greg Peppers, who heads NPR’s newscast unit, and Walter Ray Watson, who was a senior producer for “Weekend All Things Considered” until he took a fellowship at Harvard. He has since returned to the company.
However, the perception is such that another employee complained privately, “Unless I’m missing someone, there are no men of color in any management position in the newsroom.”
Mitchell said his last day would be Jan. 12.
Another African American on the layoff list is Audrey Wynn, deputy director for staff development and an NPR employee for 28� years. Wynn rose from receptionist on “Morning Edition” to assistant managing editor to her current job, which she described as “trying to make sure that all the trains run on time, when they’re supposed to and without too much stress.”
She also helped start NPR West when it launched “News & Notes With Ed Gordon.” “I know this sounds really insane,” she told Journal-isms on Thursday, “but I love doing paperwork and making things happen.”
“Combined with the elimination of ‘Day to Day’ and ‘News & Notes’ the cutbacks constitute a retreat from NPR’s efforts to reach new listeners, especially young people and members of minority groups who are not part of NPR’s ‘core’ audience,” as Paul Farhi wrote for the Washington Post. “The diversification effort started in 2002 with the opening of NPR West, the organization’s first major production facility outside of Washington and New York. The facility will remain open after the cutback, but with about half of its 60 employees.”
It will be NPR’s first organization-wide layoffs in 25 years, Farhi wrote.
“News & Notes” host Farai Chideya wrote on the program’s blog, “We are still dealing with the news, but we are committed to making sure we give you our best, now and as long as we’ve got.”
NPR’s public announcement said, “Staff and expense reductions will be made in reporting, editorial and production areas; station services; digital media; research; communications and administrative support.
“A total of 64 filled positions have been eliminated against NPR’s current staff of 889, 21 open positions will not be filled and travel and discretionary expenses have been cut across the organization,” the news release continued.
“It’s crucial to realize that these programming changes are being driven by a loss in revenue, not relevance,” added Ellen Weiss, NPR’s senior vice president for news. “With near-record audience levels, now more than ever people are relying on NPR to better understand the extraordinary events occurring in the world.”
Earlier in the day, Weiss was reported to be on the West Coast meeting with the “Day to Day” staff. Both “Day to Day” and “News & Notes” are produced at NPR West in Culver City, Calif.
“Since its 2003 launch, ‘Day to Day’ with host Madeleine Brand has redefined the newsmagazine concept to become NPR’s fastest-growing new program,” with nearly 2 million listeners on nearly 200 stations, NPR says on its Web site.
“News & Notes” started life as “The Tavis Smiley Show,” a vehicle for the network to reach out to African American audiences.
NPR had been expanding since it received a bequest of more than $236 million from Joan B. Kroc, the widow of Ray A. Kroc of McDonald’s. In 2004, Lynette Clemetson noted in the New York Times that the network was pumping $15 million into its news division over the next three years, using interest from the bequest. “NPR executives have touted the expansion as unmatched in a time of media cutbacks and consolidations,” she wrote.
Haarsager addressed the Kroc gift on Wednesday.
“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,” he said in his note to station managers. “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.”