NPR is to cut about 100 workers in one of its largest layoffs

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NPR plans to cut about 100 employees — about 10 percent of its workforce — in one of the largest layoffs in the nonprofit news organization’s 53-year history.

“Our financial outlook has darkened significantly in recent weeks,” CEO John Lansing wrote in a staff memo Wednesday, adding that NPR expects its ad revenue to fall below about $30 million in a tight advertising economy. The predicted decline in sponsorships is concentrated in podcasting, in which NPR has invested heavily in recent years with popular shows like “Fresh Air.”

Erosion of advertising dollars has affected other companies, prompting layoffs this winter at CNN, Gannett and Vox. The Washington Post has eliminated its Sunday magazine and its video game hub, Launcher, leading to about 30 layoffs among its 1,000-member news staff. Major tech companies that rely on advertising, such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, have also announced thousands of layoffs.

NPR announced about $20 million in cuts in November, mainly in hiring and travel bans. But those projected savings won’t be enough, Lansing said. “Unlike the financial challenges we faced during the worst of the pandemic, we are projecting rising costs with no sign of a rapid revenue recovery,” he wrote in the note. “We have to make changes to the things we control, and that’s our cost.”

He said details of which sectors would face severe cuts would be worked out through “internal conversations and negotiations with our unions” by the week of March 20. As part of its ongoing belt-tightening, NPR will also eliminate most of the vacancies. It’s unclear if any of its podcasts will be removed.

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NPR relies primarily on four sources of funding: advertising sponsorships, dues from its member stations, philanthropic gifts, and federal dollars that typically amount to less than 2 percent of its operating budget.

The company has suffered previous financial meltdowns that prompted programming cuts, layoffs and layoffs. In 2008, in the midst of a recession, NPR laid off 64 employees, about 7 percent of its workforce. In four out of the next five years it recorded an operating deficit.

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 resulted in wage cuts and layoffs and a deficit of about $10 million. But NPR quickly recovered, posting revenue of $293 million and an operating surplus of $28.8 million in fiscal 2021.

It wiped off some of its red ink over the years by dipping into an endowment funded in part by a $200 million bequest from the estate of Joan Kroc, heir to the McDonald’s fast-food fortune. The endowment’s balance at the end of its fiscal year in September 2021 was $368.2 million, the most recent data available.

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