Until Friday’s news, NPR had escaped many of the worst effects of the Great Recession and the digital revolution that has laid low many media organizations.
In April, it opened its new headquarters building in the shadow of the Capitol, a $201 million edifice complete with in-house restaurant with an executive chef, health-care facilities, an employee gym and gift shop.
The audience for NPR’s news and entertainment programming, including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” meanwhile, has chugged steadily upward, surpassing more than 26 million listeners per week. It has added to its domestic and international bureaus with a new outlet in Rio de Janeiro this year. And its journalists have reported extensively from the Middle East during the crises in Egypt and Syria. Among its new features is Code Switch, with regular reporting on race, ethnicity and culture.
But even with a $200 million bequest in 2003 from Joan Kroc, the late McDonald’s heiress, NPR has been unable to stave off deterioration in its finances and turnover in its executive suite.
Gary Knell, the current chief executive, has announced that he will leave to head the National Geographic Society when his two-year contract expires in November.
Knell has issued periodic warnings about the rising tide of red ink, which he has attributed to a decline in corporate “underwriting” — public broadcasting’s term for advertising.
“It’s a challenging time for everyone in our profession,” Scott Simon, the veteran NPR host, said Friday after employees were briefed on the buyout plan. “I’m struck by the confidence that our leadership has that voluntary buyouts will bring [NPR’s finances] back into line. I certainly hope so.”
NPR’s board also said it approved an interim replacement for Knell: Paul G. Haaga Jr., a former lawyer for the Securities and Exchange Commission and the retired chairman of the Investment Company Institute and of Capital Research and Management, an investment concern. He has been on NPR’s board since 2011.
The organization laid off 64 employees, or about 8 percent of its staff, in late 2008 and cut two programs to save money.
NPR receives less than 2 percent of its annual budget directly from federal funds but relies on dues from member stations that receive an average of 15 percent of their budgets from federal funds.
Separately, NPR disclosed in a tax filing Friday that it paid its former chief executive, Vivian Schiller, nearly $679,000 in salary and severance in 2011, after Schiller resigned following a 26-month tenure marked by two damaging episodes.