At the same time, NPR’s fundraising operation has been slowed by high-level departures. Jaime Porter, who headed the operation after her predecessor, Ron Schiller, resigned abruptly in the wake of last year’s video “sting,” left NPR last month for a post at Georgetown University. The senior director of individual giving, Joshua Friedman, resigned in the fall for a job at Arizona State University.
A senior editorial manager, executive editor Dick Meyer, left in November for the BBC’s American news operations. He hasn’t been replaced.
These events are playing out as NPR’s ratings growth has leveled off. Total weekly listenership for NPR last year fell just over 1 percent, to 26.8 million people, the first drop in a decade, according to NPR internal data published by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. This came despite a rise in the number of stations carrying NPR’s programs — 789 compared with 764 the previous year (NPR affiliate WAMU [88.5 FM], is the top-rated station in the Washington area).
Public broadcasting continues to face the threat of losing its federal funding, although lawmakers have turned aside such proposals for years. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) are leading the latest drive to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the congressionally created entity that passes tax money to public radio and TV stations.
CPB is seeking a $445 million advance appropriation, the same amount it received the year before. While NPR receives little of this money directly, NPR-affiliated stations rely on it for about 15 percent of their budgets. They, in turn, pay programming fees to NPR that comprise about 45 percent of NPR’s budget.
In a letter sent last week to colleagues seeking support for wiping out CPB’s federal funding, Lamborn cited the growing federal budget deficit. He also attacked the compensation of the heads of PBS and NPR. According to Lamborn, PBS President Paula Kerger received $603,403 in 2010, and former NPR chief executive Schiller received $479,011 in 2011.
“Certainly, thriving media entities that can afford to pay their executives such generous salaries should not be asking taxpayers to subsidize them,” he wrote.