Boston NPR Station WBUR Warns Of Cash Crisis And Likely Layoffs

The head of WBUR is warning that Boston’s NPR station might have to resort to layoffs, as the media outlet grapples with a major drop in sponsorship income.

WBUR is the latest station that’s dealing with financial woes — which has been impacting news organizations all across the country, leading to buyouts and layoffs.

Similar cost-cutting measures could be coming to the Boston NPR station, but no final decisions have been made.

WBUR CEO Margaret Low in a letter to donors on Wednesday explained the challenging financial situation for the outlet. WBUR’s on-air sponsorship income has plummeted by about $7 million in recent years.

“At WBUR we’ve seen a dramatic loss of sponsorship support,” Low wrote in the letter. “In the digital age, almost all that money now goes to the big platforms — like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Spotify.

“This is bad news for the news business and has created big gaps that can’t easily be filled,” the CEO added. “In the last five years, our annual on-air sponsorship income (underwriting) has dropped by more than 40% — nearly $7 million.”

Low admitted that the sponsorship income will not return to the previous higher levels. As a result, the station is exploring everything from job cuts to a hiring freeze.

“As I shared with my colleagues at a recent all-hands meeting, given our current economics, we’ll likely need to make some tough choices in the coming months,” the CEO wrote. “That could include everything from freezing open positions to eliminating jobs.”

There have been many reports in recent months of buyouts and layoffs across the media landscape. That included The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Los Angeles Times. Last month, NPR station WAMU in Washington, D.C., announced layoffs.

In the letter to WBUR donors, Low was asking them to boost their monetary support.

“This is a different story than we’ve told before,” the CEO wrote. “It’s unlike our usual on-air fundraising appeals. The stark reality is this — in order to survive, we need the people who count on us every day to dig deeper than they ever have before. We must rely more heavily on our members now. We also need our loyal fans who’ve never given to do so.”

“We’re in a race against time,” Low later added. “But we see a path forward and know that philanthropic investment is key. My hope is for the kind of support that would help secure the future for WBUR. An organization that is beloved and trusted by millions of people in Boston and beyond.”

Low also pointed out that only 3% of WBUR’s annual budget comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

“It’s a common misperception that public radio is largely supported by government funding,” the CEO wrote. “That’s not the case.”

Meanwhile amid the financial straits, WBUR’s audience has been growing and it’s ranked the top news station in Boston, according to Low. WBUR came in third overall for the Boston radio market in the recent Nielsen ratings survey, behind 98.5 The Sports Hub and Magic 106.7.

Low said, “WBUR has never been stronger and our business has never been harder.”

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