KQED Announces Layoffs, Blames Coronavirus Pandemic for Budget Shortfall

KQED announced it is laying off 20 staff members on Monday. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

This report contains a clarification.

KQED announced Monday it is laying off 20 staff members, representing 5.5% of its workforce, while a handful of other employees had their hours reduced. KQED's senior leadership blamed a sharp decline in corporate sponsorship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In an email to staff, KQED President and CEO Michael Isip said the recent implementation of a number of cost-saving measures were not enough to offset the need to lay off some staff in time for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Those measures included compensation cuts of roughly 12% taken by the senior leadership team this fiscal year.

The layoffs and other cost-saving measures aim to address a projected $7.1 million budget gap.

Among the organization's content divisions, one full-time limited term journalist was laid off as well as one part-time managing editor, Paul Rogers. Chief Content Officer Holly Kernan wrote of him: "Paul Rogers helped build the science unit and turn it into one of the most impressive science news teams on the West Coast, if not the entire country. Paul is a wonderful colleague, a unique talent and we will miss him dearly.”

The contracts of two people on the science team in temporary fill-in positions, staffers who contributed significantly to the organization's coronavirus coverage, were terminated one month early, and Kernan wrote the rest of the science team will be integrated into the broader newsroom in the near future.

Senior leadership did not provide a breakdown of the 18 other layoffs across the organization.

Sponsored

KQED will continue to hire for its currently open positions, for which laid-off employees will be able to apply, including two recently announced jobs which aim to strengthen the station's commitment to equity and inclusion. The move is part of an industry-wide reassessment of structural racism across the U.S.

In April, KQED received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan to help cover three months of salaries across the organization.

“That resource has now ended, but the pandemic has not,” Isip wrote, adding that KQED leaders expect a roughly 20% decline in corporate underwriting revenue will continue “well into 2021.” Membership revenue, which “held steady” this year, is expected to drop by roughly 6% next year, as KQED's listenership also struggles due to the pandemic. Other public media outlets in the U.S. are reporting similar trends.

"This is a time like no other and circumstances we could not have predicted. We’re all hurting today and I feel deeply for the staff we’ve had to let go," Isip wrote.

Other Cost-Saving Measures

In order to minimize layoffs, KQED leadership said it enacted a series of steps in addition to reducing compensation for the senior leadership team. They include:

  • Elimination of a 2020 salary increase for all staff (conversations with union partners continue)
  • A decrease of 403(b) employer match from 3% to 0% effective on Oct. 1
  • Furloughs for all non-essential staff from Dec. 28-31 and July 6-9

The SAG-AFTRA union represents radio journalists at KQED. NABET represents engineers, announcers and a number of other employees in facilities and membership. No regular SAG-AFTRA jobs were eliminated. Leadership is currently in negotiations with representatives from both unions over what other measures may be taken in the near future to avoid further cutbacks in staffing.

Editor’s note: KQED’s Rachael Myrow reported this story, and KQED’s Don Clyde is the editor. To maintain editorial independence, no one from KQED’s senior leadership team reviewed this report before it was posted publicly.

Aug. 11: This story has been updated to clarify the job classifications of content staffers who have been laid off or had their fill-in contracts terminated.