NPR reporter Kelsey Snell would normally have spent last week covering Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell as the congressional correspondent for “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.” But it wasn’t a normal week for Snell or anyone else at NPR.

Instead, she was out of work — one of dozens in NPR’s 520-person Washington newsroom who are going on unpaid week-long furloughs at some point during this shutdown summer, under a cost-saving agreement between NPR’s management and its newsroom. . . .

For decades, the P in NPR stood for “public,” as in publicly supported, noncommercial radio and digital news. Yet with its growing dependence on corporate advertising, NPR has found itself on equally troubled footing as its for-profit competitors, all of them reliant on the same pool of advertising dollars that have dried up during the coronavirus pandemic.

At the same time, ratings have taken a hit, with stay-at-home orders keeping many devoted listeners out of their cars, and thus away from their radios, raising concerns about the effect on public donations to hundreds of member stations.

A sharp downturn in “underwriting” — public broadcasting’s euphemism for its tasteful style of advertising — prompted NPR to adopt a package of pay cuts, furloughs and other concessions in April. Yet NPR will still show a deficit of about $10 million when its fiscal year closes in September, its widest in years, chief executive John Lansing said in an interview.

The new year starting in October figures to be even tougher. Without another round of givebacks, Lansing is projecting a deficit of $30 million to $43 million — by far the largest in NPR’s 50-year history. . . .

NPR, of course, was founded to stand apart from the ups and downs of the commercial marketplace.

It was established in 1970, alongside television’s Public Broadcasting Service, as a kind of national trust, supported through federal funding and fees and dues paid by affiliated, though independently operated, public stations nationwide. (NPR doesn’t hold pledge drives, but its stations do.) To wean itself from government funding — and the political battles that accompany it — NPR began courting advertisers. Ad money was projected this year to pass station fees as its largest source of revenue, accounting for just over a third of its $275 million annual budget. Nowadays, the federal government directly contributes only about 1 percent of its operating money.

This raises a definitional question: Can NPR still be called a noncommercial broadcaster? The more immediate question remains how the organization can muddle through the coronavirus crisis that has pushed many news organizations to the brink, and a few over it, even as the news — the health crisis, mass protests, a presidential campaign — has intensified.

The cost-cutting agreement negotiated in April between NPR’s management and its main employee union, SAG-AFTRA, didn’t spare its executives or its stars. Lansing took a 25 percent pay cut, at the top of a sliding scale that will reduce pay for every employee earning more than $80,000 annually, either through a direct cut or a combination of a pay cut and a furlough. Among those who will be furloughed next month is Supreme Court reporter Nina Totenberg, who has worked at NPR since 1975. . . .