NPR Cancels Four Podcasts in Biggest Wave of Layoffs in Decades

From a Washington Post story by Paul Farhi headlined “NPR cancels 4 podcasts in biggest wave of layoffs in decades”:

NPR said it would stop production on a series of podcasts, including “Invisibilia,” an early hit, as part of a broad cutback it signaled was coming last month.

Faced with a projected $30 million decline in revenue, the Washington-based audio and digital-news organization began laying off about 100 employees, or 10 percent of its staff, this week — among the largest reductions in its 53-year history. Managers have set aside three days this week to notify those affected across a number of departments; Thursday was the newsroom’s turn to get the bad news.

The programming cutbacks disclosed Thursday appear to reflect NPR’s decision to protect its core news programs that remain highly popular on its national network of public-radio affiliates, including its two daily newsmagazines, “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”

But it comes at the expense of its once-booming podcast arm, which until recently had been a growing source of ad revenue and the means for noncommercial NPR to attract new and younger listeners.

NPR said last month that it expected its overall ad revenue to fall about $30 million short of projections this year amid a general tightening of ad spending. Podcasting is the area that has seen the steepest revenue decline.

“Invisibilia,” which debuted with the advent of the podcast boom in early 2015, focused on psychology and the social sciences. At one point, it was the most popular podcast on the Apple Podcasts Charts, though it has slipped in more recent years with intensifying competition.

NPR said it would close out “Invisibilia” and the podcasts “Rough Translation” (which reported about foreign perspectives on common issues) and “Louder Than a Riot” (which explored hip-hop culture) when their current seasons end.

It will also stop production of “Everyone and Their Mom,” a humorous weekly program that debuted last year from the producers of NPR’s venerable weekend quiz program “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me.”

Officially, NPR said it was “stopping production” of the programs, rather than canceling them outright, a distinction that leaves open the possibility that the podcasts could be revived in some fashion.

“Unfortunately, NPR has had to take painful but necessary steps” to address its financial issues,” said Isabel Lara, its spokesperson. “We’ve tried as much as possible to retain industry-leading podcast portfolios and focus on key strategic priorities, daily habits and serving new audiences.”

NPR produces some of the most popular podcasts in the country, including “Fresh Air” and the daily news program “Up First.”

Underscoring its current financial plight, NPR chief executive John Lansing told managers on Thursday that if the organization hadn’t acted to reduce its overhead, it would have exhausted its resources shortly after 2025. He said NPR’s management is working with its charitable foundation to secure additional funds if a deficit continues to widen, according to Lara.

NPR tried to address its revenue issues with about $20 million in cuts in November, mainly through a hiring freeze and travel restrictions. But it said last month that those savings wouldn’t be enough.

“Unlike the financial challenges we faced during the worst of the pandemic, we project increasing costs and no sign of a quick revenue rebound,” Lansing wrote in a staff memo last month. “We must make adjustments to what we control, and that is our spending.”

NPR’s annual revenue is comprised of ad sponsorships (known as “underwriting” in public broadcasting), dues from its member stations, and donations. Contributions from the federally chartered Corporation for Public Broadcasting usually amount to less than 2 percent of its operating budget.

NPR reported revenue of $309.7 million and an operating surplus of $28.8 million in fiscal 2021, the most recent year figures are available. This was a sharp increase over its pandemic-beset fiscal 2020, when it recorded revenue of $275.4 million and a $13.6 million operating surplus.

But its new round of cost cutting reflects a stagnant ad market, which has prompted other media and entertainment companies to shed employees despite a tight labor market overall. News companies such as Vox Media, Gannett and The Washington Post have announced cutbacks in recent months, as have Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery and tech giants Microsoft, Amazon and Google, among others.

Paul Farhi is The Washington Post’s media reporter. He started at The Post in 1988 and has been a financial reporter, a political reporter and a Style reporter.

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