In Layoff Announcement, NPR Says It Will End 'Tell Me More'

National Public Radio has eliminated 28 positions and plans to end the program "Tell Me More." The moves come as the network continues its attempt to eliminate budget deficits.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

NPR announced more cutbacks today. This company is ending the weekday news and talk program TELL ME MORE on August 1st. It's also cutting 28 newsroom positions.

NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik reports the cuts are part of a plan to reduce network costs by $7 million.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: NPR has had a balanced budget just one of the past six years. TELL ME MORE draws more than a million listeners each week and runs on 136 stations, but it costs a lot more to produce than it earns back. NPR executives told staffers earlier today that the show would shut down amid larger layoffs.

KINSEY WILSON: These times require that we organize ourselves in different ways and that we're smarter about how we address the variety of different platforms that we need to find audiences on, whether that's our broadcast air or digital platforms

FOLKENFLIK: That's Kinsey Wilson, NPR's executive vice president and chief content officer. He spoke to me during an interview.

WILSON: We're trying to make the most of the resources that we have and ensure that we keep radio strong and healthy, and that we continue to develop audience in the digital arena.

FOLKENFLIK: TELL ME MORE's host Michel Martin joined NPR in 2006. She'll stay on at the network, as will the show's executive producer, Carline Watson. The two will lead a new smaller team to continue their coverage of issues of race, ethnicity, identity, faith and family throughout NPR's news magazines, online and at public events.

Those staffers laid off, including the rest of the TELL ME MORE staff, will be eligible to apply for those jobs. It joins two other related but separate projects on race and identity: The Race Card and Code Switch.

There is a precedent. After NPR shed several music shows, it embarked on NPR MUSIC; a project in collaboration with Public Radio member stations that encompasses a major digital presence with radio segments and live concerts.

Still, Martin tells me she had scar tissue from the decision.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

To be honest with you, I think we've been casualties of executive churn. Every CEO who has been at this network since I've been here - and how many are there now, six, seven - all of them have supported this program but none of them have stayed around long enough to institutionalize that support.

FOLKENFLIK: Martin says her show exceeded expectations in terms of substance and audience.

MARTIN: Clearly it's not enough in this environment to fulfill an editorial mission. You've got to be supported across the board. And I don't think that that's always happened.

FOLKENFLIK: Two earlier shows designed to appeal to African-American listeners, THE TAVIS SMILEY SHOW and NEWS AND NOTES, also ultimately ended in cancellation. But Martin says she had made a conscious decision to stay with the network and hold it to its promise.

MARTIN: You know, we've done a lot to show what's possible here and I want to keep that going. I can't say to them, look, you need to do better at serving these audiences and then walk away from it. I just don't think that's fair.

FOLKENFLIK: NPR's chief content executive Wilson lauds the success of Martin's show, and said the institution is unified behind her new endeavor.

WILSON: We're in a different era than we were in even five or six years ago. And there is, in fact, an opportunity to reach a larger audience across a multitude of platforms.

FOLKENFLIK: Overall, the cuts, in combination with earlier buyouts, reduce NPR's deficit to slightly more than $6 million this year, and put it on a path to a balanced budget for next year.

NPR's newly named CEO Jarl Mohn will take over this summer.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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