Northern California Public Broadcasting will cut 13 percent of its budget and lay off 30 employees because the recession has reduced the corporate giving that funds much of the organization.
The stations' 291 employees were told Monday of the move, which officials expect will save $8 million. No reporters will leave San Francisco's KQED-FM, and no TV staff will depart, officials said. Employees with enough seniority were offered a buyout package; others were dismissed immediately.
KQED-TV, which produces shows such as “Check, Please!” and “Quest,” will continue to develop new episodes this spring, but production of future episodes of all series will depend on funding.
KQED-FM, which has the nation's largest public radio audience with 857,900 listeners each week, will see no major changes, station officials said. KQED's television outlet had 1.6 million households tuning in during December. According to the November ratings, KTEH, the public station in San Jose, had 891,522.
While membership has dropped only 5 percent since October, major donations have dropped 15 percent and corporate underwriting has dropped 24 percent.
“Our organization, like many other nonprofit media organizations, has been hit by the economic crisis and recession. As a public company, we are doing everything we can to provide the best programming, content and services to the people and communities we serve even in these incredibly challenging times,” said Jeff Clarke, Northern California Public Broadcasting's president and CEO.
“If the economy hadn't gone south nationally, we wouldn't be doing this,” said spokesman Scott Walton.
Revenue, not audience
Much like their commercial counterparts, public broadcasting stations across the nation are cutting back in response to the recession. Nationally, public television is forecast to undergo a 16 percent drop in revenues this fiscal year and public radio a 13 percent drop, according to a preliminary assessment in January by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Revenues from corporate underwriting, state and local funding, and university sources are projected to drop 15 percent each for public radio this year compared with last, according to the study. Potential public TV revenue is forecast to dip 16 percent.
“Public radio has a revenue problem. It does not have an audience problem,” said Dana Davis Rehm, a senior vice president for marketing communications and external relations for National Public Radio. Since 1999, NPR's audience has roughly doubled to 26.3 million listeners a week, according to 2008 numbers.
Roughly 29 percent of NPR's revenue comes from corporate sponsors, and 43 percent comes from membership dues and programming fees paid by member stations. Only 2 percent comes from federal funding organizations like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
And even though NPR received a $200 million bequest in 2003 from Joan Kroc, the widow of McDonald's Corp. entrepreneur Ray Kroc, the network has to fight through many legal restrictions to access much of the money in the endowment, network officials said. The gift enabled the network to expand its newsroom (75 new staff positions) and maintain 18 domestic and 18 foreign bureaus. After projecting a $23 million deficit in December, NPR cut 64 positions and canceled the shows “Day to Day” and “News and Notes.”
With the recession crippling some of public broadcasting's major funding sources like state governments and corporate underwriters, some public broadcasting advocates have already begun quietly asking sympathetic members of Congress how to obtain federal help to make up the difference.
That effort will intensify next week as public broadcasting's advocates make a stronger pitch to Congress and the Obama administration, which is perceived to be more friendly to public media outlets.
The corporation, which is funded in advance by Congress, is scheduled to receive $400 million in the 2009 fiscal year and $420 million the next year, “minus any across-the-board rescission Congress could impose,” said Louise Filkins, a spokeswoman for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
“Public broadcasting is not immune to the same economic currents that are buffeting the nation,” said Larry Sidman, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, which lobbies for the industry at the federal level.
Asked how he would make the pitch for increased funding for public television at a time when millions of people are losing their jobs and homes, Sidman said, “Public television provides a unique service in that it provides locally produced news, information and education at a time when other media are struggling and don't have the money to do a lot of the things they used to. It is an oasis in the media land scape.”
Northern California public stations
Northern California Public Broadcasting owns and operates public television stations KQED in San Francisco, KTEH in San Jose and KQET in Watsonville/Monterey and public radio stations KQED 88.5 FM in San Francisco and KQEI 89.3 FM in Sacramento. It also runs KQED's Education Network and KQED.org, KQET.com and KTEH.org. It is partially supported by its 200,000 members.
Public broadcasting stations cut staff, budget.
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