The erosion of advertising revenues has affected other organizations as well, leading to layoffs this winter at CNN, Gannett and Vox, among others. The Washington Post has cut its Sunday magazine and its video game hub, Launcher, from the cuts that led to about 30 layoffs among its roughly 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, mostly by freezing hiring and restricting travel. But Lansing said those projected savings wouldn’t be enough. “Unlike the financial challenges we faced during the worst of the pandemic, we expect rising costs and no sign of a rapid revenue recovery,” he wrote in the memo. “We need to make adjustments to what we control, which is our expenses.”
He said details of which departments will face the sharpest cuts will be worked out during the week of March 20 through “internal discussions and negotiations with our unions”. As part of the current belt-tightening effort, NPR will also cut most job openings. It’s unclear if any of his podcasts will be eliminated.
NPR relies primarily on four sources of funding: ad sponsorship, member station dues, philanthropic giving, and federal dollars that typically amount to less than 2 percent of the company’s budget.
The organization has experienced previous financial setbacks that have resulted in program cuts, layoffs, and time off. In 2008, during a recession, NPR laid off 64 employees, about 7 percent of its workforce. It then posted operating deficits in four of the next five years.
The outbreak of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic led to a combination of pay cuts and furlough and an expected shortfall of about $10 million. But NPR bounced back quickly, reporting revenue of $293 million and an operating surplus of $28.8 million in fiscal 2021.
It has erased some of its red ink over the years by diving into an endowment funded in part by a $200 million bequest from the estate of Joan Kroc, an heiress to the McDonald’s fast food fortune. The endowment had a balance of $368.2 million at fiscal year end in September 2021, the most recent for which data is available.