Hard times hit NPR

(There are comments attached to this post.)

The revenue woes that have decimated commercial media visited NPR today when the public radio network announced its cutting its staff by 10 percent.

NPR’s David Folkenflik tweeted today that NPR will offer voluntary buyouts to reduce the size of its operation, and will start the budget year with a 3 percent deficit on its $183 million budget. If the buyouts follow the patterns of other media, some recognizable names could soon depart the airwaves.

In a news release, NPR announced that it had named an interim CEO, board vice chairman Paul G. Haaga, a lawyer and retired chairman of board at Capital Research and Management Company. NPR is looking for a permanent replacement for Gary Knell, who departed for National Geographic.

But that buries the lede, which is the loss of talent at the operation, whose finances were buttressed when Joan Kroc, a Saint Paul native, left NPR $200 million when she died in 2003.

NPR recently moved into a new $201 million headquarters, which the Washington Post said has a “wellness” center, an employee gym and a gourmet cafe staffed by a resident chef. With 840 employees, it had outgrown its old facility.

  • John O.

    So NPR begins the fiscal year with a three percent deficit (~$5.5M) and an announcement of buyouts. As you correctly point out, “those recognizable names” are probably at or near the top of the list. Once they depart, that will give a lot of people another reason to reduce or end their contributions to NPR. Rinse, spin, repeat.

    • tboom

      John O – Your comment reminds me of a Harvard Business Case I was required to study half a lifetime ago (from a Harvard Business School publication, NOT at Harvard!). I’m sure the case was boiled down from real life, but in a nutshell: the company (run by a Harvard graduate) manufactured five products, four profitable one showing a loss. The CEO eliminated the unprofitable product. With the four remaining products, three were profitable and one was showing a loss. The CEO repeated. You probably know where this is going; carried to completion the numbers would have dictated elimination of all products, one at a time. This lesson was about fixed and variable costs and the interrelated nature of products.

      I’m sure there is a lesson for NPR in here somewhere. I believe there is also a commentary about the nature of business as practiced in our country.

    • spaz06

      I am pretty sure only the local affiliates, and not the actual organization NPR raise money from member contributions. I could be wrong though.

  • David

    I cannot help but think of the Planet Money project I’ve been following where they wanted to investigate t shirts from seed to store. They decided to build their own shirts then sell them. They used the money they profited on to report on the story. Also, you had to buy in advance so they knew how many shirts to make. Their goal was $50,000 in sales. By the time the deadline showed up, over 20,000 people had pledged for a total of around $590,000.
    Is this the future? Will we be buying specific stories in advance? Will I be shelling out $20 and saying, here NPR, go cover the national election for me.