Apr 23, 2009

NPR cuts another 13 jobs

NPR announced today another 13 layoffs, part of cost-cutting measures to close an $8 million budget gap this fiscal year. Two were senior positions, while another was a news management job eliminated in March, says Dana Davis Rehm, senior v.p. of marketing, communications and external relations. The remaining positions were in the communications, legal, and IT divisions. All of the positions were nonunion jobs. The cuts will save NPR $700,000 this year and come after an additional 64 jobs were eliminated in December. NPR President Vivian Schiller discussed the cuts and NPR's financial picture in an all-staff meeting today at NPR headquarters.

University will offer Flint station to another pubTV operator

The University of Michigan announced today it will close WFUM in Flint and expects to arrange for transfer of the channel to another public TV operator by this summer. Some or all of 21 employees will lose their jobs. A detailed fact sheet, in a Word document, says the station is projected to lose revenues equal to one-third of its operating budget. WFUM was one of the stations found to be in "fragile" economic condition by a CPB survey, the university said. The survey predicted the recession would reduce pubTV stations' income by 14 percent this year. In Flint, WFUM membership and underwriting revenues are projected to drop 26 percent from last year's level and the station has used all of its reserves, the university said. Its auditor, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, said in February that WFUM was no longer a "going concern," meaning that it was unlikely to survive. The station won nine regional Emmys in the Michigan competition last year, according to the Flint Journal.

Unionized NPR employees ratify new contracts

NPR technicians represented by the National Association of Broadcast Engineers and Technicians have ratified a new contract with management. The votes, collected yesterday, were 72 percent in favor and 28 percent against, according to NABET. The contract reduces NPR’s contributions to retirement plans, cuts three holidays and requires employees to take week-long furloughs. It also suspends jurisdictional rules governing some technicians’ jobs. NPR employees represented by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, who make up a much larger share of the network’s workforce, also ratified their contract yesterday. Details from AFTRA are forthcoming. Current covered the NABET negotiations in an earlier article.

What good is journalism, anyway? Comments invited ...

PBS is helping to collect public comments on the journalism's iffy future for a blue-ribbon Knight Commission that compares itself to the Carnegie Commission of 40 years ago. The 15-member commission is scheduled to vote on its recommendations in May. A summary of its draft report finds that journalism is "a critical intermediating practice" (and other good things). Since Tuesday, a handful of people have contributed remarks on the pubTV network's little-known social network, PBS Engage -- a comment line that will be open until May 8. The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, funded by the Knight Foundation and run by the Aspen Institute, features a Carnegie-like cast of 15 commissioners, including Co-chairs Theodore Olson, former U.S. solicitor general, and Google exec Marissa Mayer. Ex-officio members are Aspen Chair Walter Isaacson, biographer and former Time editor (he came back for the Feb. 15 cover story "How to Save Your Newspaper"), and Alberto Ibarguen, Knight chair and former PBS chair. It's a bipartisan crew, with a matched pair of former FCC chairs, Reed Hundt (D) and Michael Powell (R). The commission has held several hearings around the country since it began work last June and is scheduled to vote on recommendations May 13.

Viewers continue their reaction to two PBS shows

PBS ombudsman Michael Getler's latest column features additional letters from viewers regarding the use of Al Jazeera news reports on WorldFocus, as well as more on Frontline's "Sick Around America."

State cuts threaten to shutter two Pennsylvania pubTV stations

Proposed budget cuts in Pennsylvania are putting two stations in jeopardy of closing, according to testimony at a hearing Wednesday of the Senate's Communications and Technology Committee. Gov. Ed Rendell wants to eliminate the network that links stations statewide, and end grants to individual stations. "The precipitous decline in funding would have a severe, if not fatal, effect on our two smallest stations," Tony May, chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Television Network, told the committee. May told Current that Philadelphia's WYBE and WQLN in Erie each count on state funding for more than 30 percent of their budgets, and that there are "certainly alternatives to going dark but none of them are very palatable." Under Rendell's proposal, some limited functions of the network would continue through another state agency.

With 17 layoffs at WHYY, eyes turn to boss's paycheck

Philadelphia’s WHYY-FM/TV laid off 17 employees or 8 percent of its staff Wednesday to help balance its budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the Inquirer reported today, quoting spokesman Art Ellis’s reassurance to audiences that the affected workers include “no one directly involved in news or content production.” The newspaper, which examined President Bill Marrazzo’s pay at great length in November, yesterday reported pointedly that his $740,090 potential salary, benefits, expenses and deferred compensation in fiscal '07 equalled 62 percent of the amount saved by the layoffs.

WNYC's Greene Performance Space now open

WNYC radio opened its long-awaited Jerome L. Greene Performance Space on Tuesday in Lower Manhattan, reports The New York Times. It's wired for TV, radio and video streaming, and features a reconfigurable wood stage, seating for more than 100, programmable LED lighting and robotic cameras. "It’s not just about going back to performance; it’s also about adding a 21st-century multiplatform aspect,” said Laura Walker, the president and chief executive of WNYC.

Comcast shift of MPT sparks outcry

In what may be a harbinger of nationwide problems, angry viewers continue to complain to Maryland Public Television that they've lost the station. The problem: Comcast moved MPT from its basic lineup of channels to the digital tier, The Washington Post reports. "We've had quite a few calls," station spokesman Michael Golden told the newspaper. "More than 'many.' " The move affects tens of thousands of viewers in 10 Maryland and Virginia counties plus the District of Columbia. And there are more problems in Delaware.

Kerger of PBS responds to tribal complaints over "We Shall Remain"

PBS head Paula Kerger has responded to the three Native American tribes regarding their concerns over the series We Shall Remain, according to the Cape Cod Times. The Mashpee Wampanoag, Narragansett and Wampanoag of Gay Head (Aquinnah) tribes of Massachusetts had complained to the network about their representation in the first episode, "After the Mayflower," which detailed tribal interactions with Pilgrims. In her letter, Kerger said the producers did reach out to the tribes and interviewed several tribal members. More on the tribal letter here.