NPR cancels 4 podcasts amid major layoffs
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
NPR sent layoff notices to about a tenth of its employees this week. The network also announced the cancellation of four podcasts. It's a wrenching time here in the newsroom due to what NPR's chief executive calls an existential threat - a projected revenue shortfall of more than $30 million for the year. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik is covering this. Hey, David.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: All right. Tell us more about who and what NPR is cutting.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, you mentioned the four podcasts, and some of them are pretty familiar to a lot of folks. Invisibilia, Louder Than A Riot - about hip hop. You have Rough Translation - which is a conduit for coverage of international affairs - and Everyone & Their Mom, a comic podcast spun out of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me.
FOLKENFLIK: Roughly a hundred people in all are being separated from NPR - that is, giving their walking papers - across all divisions. Although as our chief executive, John Lansing, said, this is not an across-the-board cut. They're trying to be targeted in what they did.
KELLY: Yeah. What are they saying are driving these specific choices?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, among other things, they said they wanted to get away from what they called seasonal podcasts and make sure that what they're offering is more frequent and dependable - sustained. If you think about Embedded, an investigative podcast that was kind of periodic, now it's going to be - at least 36 weeks of the year, there'll be fresh new things. Our investigative narrative, you know, enterprise work will appear there. They said they want to protect radio shows. They - John Lansing, our chief executive, talked about wanting to protect the journalism, and he wanted to protect what he called his North Star - that is, broadening our audiences, our appeal to a broader demographic - more diverse, not only our offerings but the people producing that content so that we could have audiences for generations to come.
KELLY: I'll circle back to that, but one more thing John Lansing has said - our CEO, Lansing, has said is that NPR is facing an existential threat. How urgent is it? How bad?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, look. NPR is, according to Podtrac, the nation's third-largest producer of podcasts. We've had huge growth, and we'd put resources into that, and that's been enormous for us. We - for a time, we had more corporate underwriting or advertising revenue coming in from podcasts than from radios, but then that ad market for podcasting collapsed. We had a shortfall pretty quickly this year. Fifteen to 20 million became $30 million budget deficit on a $300 million budget, and it's growing. Lansing said if we didn't make major structural changes, we'd be out of business by the beginning of our fiscal year in 2025.
KELLY: I know, David, because I'm sitting in the newsroom, that there's a lot of anger in response to some of these cuts. Share a little bit more of what the internal reaction has been.
FOLKENFLIK: Anger. I think you've seen pain. You've seen anguish, in some cases betrayal, a feeling, perhaps, that somehow the network is turning its back on younger journalists, on people of color, on the kinds of audiences John Lansing talked about as his North Star. Now, the network has just released this afternoon data showing that the network is still going to be 42% people of color. That's what it was before the cuts. The network would remain, I think, over half female. You know, 58%, I believe that number is. And so they say it's keeping consistent but that they've tried to work hard to do it. And let me also say union leaders - Pat O'Donnell represents the largest union of workers at the company. She says there was a real problem and that she felt the company negotiated in very good faith.
KELLY: Last thing, David - what does this mean for our listeners, for our readers?
FOLKENFLIK: Listen. Audiences will undoubtedly be disappointed, as many of our colleagues are today. But, you know, you've got to understand in media, in broadcasting, in podcasting, nothing's guaranteed for life. The network has to figure out ways to produce things that people want to hear while fulfilling its mission.
KELLY: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Thank you.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
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