Citing “financial headwinds,” New England Public Media’s leadership said they’ve laid off 17 people and canceled the arts-and-culture program Connecting Point.
By Dusty Christensen
SPRINGFIELD — Leadership at the region’s NPR and PBS affiliate have laid off 20% of the organization’s entire staff.
Earlier this week, New England Public Media announced that it would lay off 17 people and stop producing the show “Connecting Point.” NEPM leadership cited “serious financial headwinds” for the decision, which includes layoffs in TV production. There were no job cuts in the radio newsroom, company spokesperson Vanessa Cerillo said in a statement.
NEPM did not make Matt Abramovitz, the station’s president, available for an interview.
“I just feel really heartbroken,” Heather Brandon, one of those laid off, told The Shoestring.
Brandon served as managing editor at the station during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and as NEPM’s director of digital content she led projects like gathering audience input on what western Massachusetts wants from Gov. Maura Healy in the first 100 days of her administration.
(Full disclosure: Brandon and I worked together recently on an NEPM investigation I did as a freelancer into civilian complaints against the Holyoke Police Department.)
New England Public Media was created in 2019 when New England Public Radio merged with Springfield’s WGBY public television, which is a subsidiary of the Boston public media outlet GBH.
In the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2022, NEPM reported $7.9 million in total operating revenue but $12.6 million in operating expenses, according to financial statements on the company’s website.
During that period, NEPM launched, and soon after canceled, a talk show called And Another Thing. The organization is currently spending $9 million renovating its Hampden Street studio in Springfield, which will house all of its operations, according to reporting in The Republican.
“NEPM is transforming into a more nimble multiplatform media company that centers our audience’s needs both in terms of the content we offer and on the platforms where they want to consume it,” Cerillo said in a statement.
Brandon said that the financial challenges represented a “huge problem.” She said that the ambitions during the merger with WGBY were grand in scale, and that the organization should probably have been more conservative in how quickly it spent money during that period.
“I’m so confused because the people they’re laying off aren’t responsible for any of those decisions and didn’t bring us to this place,” she said. “I wish for some accountability within the organization and some better strategic thinking and I just don’t know that that’s happening.”
When the merger happened, NEPR was unionized and WGBY was not. The resulting situation means that some staff at NEPM continue to be union members with the Massachusetts Teachers Association. New hires, however, will no longer be represented by a union.
National Public Radio also announced last month that it plans to layoff 10% of its workforce.
Dusty Christensen is an independent investigative reporter based in western Massachusetts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dustyc123.
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