Like nearly all media outlets in the U.S., National Public Radio is responding to the economic pain caused by the nation’s coronavirus lockdown. In the public broadcaster’s case, it’s slashing executive pay by 10% to 25%.
A report published last week by The Wall Street Journal says the non-profit’s pursuit of austerity is due to COVID-19-related deficits in sponsorship and donation revenue. A memo to staffers sent by CEO John Lansing said NPR faces a budget shortfall of $30 million to $45 million through its 2021 fiscal year.
That calculation includes an estimated sponsorship shortfall of $12 million to $15 million in sponsorship revenue. NPR had budgeted a total of $115 million for 2020, according to Lansing’s memo.
Lansing, who cited “a very tough marketplace,” told employees that key donors “will be thinking hard about gifts as they watch the swings in the values of their own portfolios,” and that NPR will need to cut costs substantially as a result. NPR is now taking a hard look at its discretionary spending—like new hiring, bonuses, raises and more.
The Journal says NPR, a top podcaster that employs about 700 workers overall, is trying to save $25 million in costs while preserving jobs.
“We do not have any position eliminations on the table now, and it is our goal to avoid them as much as is reasonably possible,” Lansing wrote in his memo.
“However, I don’t have a crystal ball so I can’t guarantee anything other than that is my intent.”
NPR’s story is a familiar one in 2020 as radio stations and other media outlets confront the issue of diminished advertising revenue during the crisis.
“NPR is taking a significant budget hit because of the economic lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the broadcaster said in an official statement. “We do not have a profit motive or shareholders to serve like commercial media, so all of our resources go toward public service.”
The statement continues: “We will continue to manage our budgets closely across the organization — our main priority is to preserve jobs. During this pandemic and beyond, NPR will continue to provide an essential public service to audiences across platforms.”
NPR says it’s nonetheless planning for better days.
“We’re all trying to get through this and to the other side, and our view is that there is another side,” Paul G. Haaga Jr., the chairman of NPR’s board, told The New York Times. “My personal view is, I don’t think we’re going to need to make huge permanent cuts that will undermine the mission. We’ve got a lot of reserves, we’ve been prudent in our finances and our investment management. That’s going to benefit us in this difficult time.”