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Despite Growing Audience, NPR Cuts Programming, Staff Amid Economic Troubles

National Public Radio announced Wednesday that it will cancel two programs and lay off 64 staff members -- its first staff cuts in 25 years. Ellen Weiss, NPR's senior vice president for news, discusses the cuts and the recession's worsening effects on the media.

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    NPR has been growing and gaining millions of listeners for many years. But now it, too, is feeling the squeeze amid the economic downturn.

    Yesterday, the company announced it's facing a $23 million budget shortfall for the current fiscal year, will cut its workforce by 7 percent, and, as of next March, cancel two daily programs, "News and Notes" and "Day to Day."

    With me to discuss the cuts is Ellen Weiss, NPR's senior vice president for news.

    Welcome to you.

  • ELLEN WEISS, National Public Radio:

    Thank you.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    It had seemed to many of us that NPR was somehow immune from much of what was going on. How exactly is your budget impacted by the economic slowdown?

  • ELLEN WEISS:

    Well, the most important source of revenue for NPR is obviously from our member stations, and that comes from our listeners and our supporters. But the second most important part comes from sponsorship, from underwriting.

    And anybody who's been following the economic crisis these last couple months understands that the advertising market, the sponsorship market, has really slowed down, and eventually it hit NPR.

    And it started to hit us this spring. And we tried to begin to make some decisions about how to position ourselves for 2009, but it just kept getting worse and worse and worse. And now it is projected to be $23 million. And that is a projection. You know, it's our best guess right now.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    I mean, I think if people know much about your funding, they know about this huge, what do you call it, grant that you got…

  • ELLEN WEISS:

    Gift.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    … gift from Mrs. Kroc from the McDonald's fortune, a lot of money. That does not shield you from a downturn like this?

  • ELLEN WEISS:

    No. And, you know, I can understand, because the Kroc gift obviously was incredibly generous, and we were very fortunate to receive it.

    But the fact is that most of the Kroc gift is an endowment. And through all sorts of legal restrictions, we don't have access to it or we don't have access to much of it.

    But, still, I should emphasize that the Kroc gift constitutes about half of a $15 million — excuse me, $15 million in reserves that our board has allowed us to use to get through this tough economic time.

    Still, I would say, even if we could use the Kroc gift legally, it wouldn't be prudent. I mean, it's a little bit like an individual going into their retirement account before asking themselves, "How can we economize?"