The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

NPR to cut about 100 workers in one of its largest layoffs ever

(Evy Mages for The Washington Post)
3 min

NPR plans to cut about 100 employees — roughly 10 percent of its workforce — in one of the largest layoffs in the nonprofit news giant’s 53-year history.

“Our financial outlook has darkened considerably over recent weeks,” CEO John Lansing wrote in a staff memo Wednesday, noting that NPR expected its ad revenue to fall about $30 million short of projections in a tightening ad economy. The projected decline in sponsorships has been concentrated in podcasting, a segment in which NPR has invested heavily in recent years, with popular shows such as “Fresh Air.”

The erosion of advertising dollars has affected other organizations, triggering layoffs at CNN, Gannett and Vox, among others this winter. The Washington Post has eliminated its Sunday magazine and its video game hub, Launcher, among cuts that led to about 30 layoffs among its some 1,000-member news staff. Major tech companies that rely on advertising, such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, have also announced thousands of layoffs.

NPR announced about $20 million in cuts in November, mainly by freezing hiring and restricting travel. But Lansing said those projected savings would not 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,” he wrote in the memo. “We must make adjustments to what we control, and that is our spending.”

He said details about which departments will face the sharpest cuts will be worked out by the week of March 20, through “conversations internally and bargaining with our unions.” As part of its current belt-tightening, NPR will also eliminate most vacant positions. It’s unclear whether any of its podcasts will be eliminated.

NPR is primarily reliant on four sources of funds: ad sponsorships, dues from its member stations, philanthropic gifts and federal dollars that typically amount to less than 2 percent of its operating budget.

The organization has experienced previous financial downturns that have prompted programming cuts, layoffs and work furloughs. In 2008, amid a recession, NPR laid off 64 employees, about 7 percent of its staff. It subsequently recorded operating deficits in four of the next five years.

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 led to a combination of pay cuts and furloughs and a projected deficit of about $10 million. But NPR soon recovered, reporting revenue of $293 million and an operating surplus of $28.8 million during fiscal 2021.

It has erased some of its red ink over the years by dipping into an endowment that was funded in part by a $200 million bequest from the estate of Joan Kroc, an heiress to the McDonald’s fast-food fortune. The endowment had a balance of $368.2 million at the end of its fiscal year in September 2021, the most recent in which data is available.