MPR deficit: could be $2 million

Times are tough all over, and now Minnesota Public Radio staffers are looking over their shoulders.

According to a recent staff alert, MPR and its cohort American Public Media are running about $1.5 million to $2 million under budget for the fiscal year that started in July. 

Is that a lot? Not if you’re a newspaper or TV station; on the high side, the shortfall represents a bit under 3 percent of APM/MPR’s $70 million budget. That qualifies as a great year in the media world right now.

If cuts are applied evenly across departments — and I’m hearing they could come just before or after the holidays — MPR’s newsroom could lose $150,000 or so.

But it’s also a big “if.” MPR could try to fundraise its way out of trouble, though communications manager Jennifer Haugh notes the tough climate. Foundations are disgorging less grant money, and while MPR’s membership rolls are holding steady, members are giving less.

I asked Haugh if perhaps there was a 25-day pledge drive in listeners’ future; she confidently rejected that notion, though I didn’t ask about extra days here and there.

Cuts seem more likely but even then, they might be asymmetric. APM/MPR has four major components: News, Classical, the Current and APM’s national shows (Marketplace, Weekend America, Speaking of Faith). Earlier this year, the newsroom lost fewer positions than elsewhere; shows like “Weekend America” took relatively large hits.

If repeated, reductions could unsettle music fans, business junkies, and seekers. However, Haugh cautions against assuming your favorite reporter or program is going down: “The last thing we would want to do is compromise our programming. We’ll look at everything else first without sacrificing listeners.”

MPR’s leaders, while cautious, are also smart long-term planners. On the news front, they know with local rivals sinking elsewhere, they stand to grab significant market share — in general and on the web — if they can resist the “cut to victory” parade.

[Conflict of interest note: I am an occasional, unpaid-by-choice MPR commentator.]

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 12/17/2008 - 11:27 am.

    I hope we do not have a bail-out of another democratic special interest group.

  2. Submitted by Betty Tisel on 12/17/2008 - 01:08 pm.

    MPR staff have been looking over their shoulders for a longggg time.

    Maybe if MPR had focused on keeping what they had instead of buying up other stations they would not be in this mess.

    My heart goes out to the hardworking staff. I have no sympathy for the management.

  3. Submitted by Susan Peterson on 12/17/2008 - 02:20 pm.

    Perhaps the overpaid Bill Kling could wipe out the shortfall by giving up some or all of his pay. After all, his empire-building proclivities certainly contributed to MPR’s troubles. When he starts getting paid as the head of a nonprofit instead of as a corporate CEO, and stops wasting members’ contributions on buying up stations all over the country, I’ll be more than happy to become a paying member of MPR.

  4. Submitted by chris hatch on 12/17/2008 - 03:45 pm.

    @Ron Gotzman, I am curious what other democratic special interest groups have been bailed out.

    The only bailouts I am aware of are to wall street and i would argue that goes against the “traditional” democratic special interest.

    and public radio doesn’t receive that much public financing, and least not anymore than a typical corporation gets in tax breaks or deffered taxes.

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 12/17/2008 - 04:24 pm.

    Several people have mentioned MPR’s (or Bill Kling’s) purchase of stations in other parts of the country. Michigan, Idaho(?), more?

    Rather than chance any reduction to the great news and classical music service available to us WITHOUT continuous commercial interruptions attempting to sell us stuff, it would seem to be a good idea to find a buyer for as many of those other stations as possible.

    Mr. Gotzman: You might spend a day or two listening to the news station (9l.1 FM) (on which you can also hear BBC Radio overnight) to see how much better informed you feel than when you get a probably well-intentioned but brief, sometimes shallow presentation of however much news will fit in between the loud and obnoxious advertising on regular stations. Your tax dollars are at work and MPR and they do a fine job.

  6. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 12/17/2008 - 04:54 pm.

    Chris,

    I am glad you agree that MPR is a democratic special interest group.

    “Wall-Street” gave much more money to the Dems than the republicans. Also, any honest observer would admit that the auto bailout proposal was nothing more than a pay-off to the union. This is evident by the union’s refusal to renegotiate their contracts.

    Evidence of further democratic special interest bailouts will be evident after the inauguration. Big education, Big unions, Big Government will also be the special recipients of the stimulus package.

  7. Submitted by chris hatch on 12/18/2008 - 11:21 am.

    @Ron Gotzman

    to be explicit about it, I don’t think NPR or MPR are dem groups more than anything else. I think the reporting tends to be pretty top notch and that is what I am looking for, not just the soundbite partisan attacks of Fox or MSNBC.

    as for my question about democratic interests having been bailed out. I don’t really think wall street is a dem interest group. I think they may have given more to dems because they could read the writing on the wall and wanted to get in good with whomever is in power.

    and what about the republican special interests in the defense industry and big oil that benefited and are still benefiting from the W administration? have you been against that as well? because you should at least be consistent in your anti-special interest views.

    as for the auto bailout. I don’t necessarily agree with it but I can tell you it could have a much bigger affect on the overall economy than wall street has had.
    My uncle has already been layed off from a parts manufacturing plant because of a drop in orders and doesn’t expect to be recalled (this despite providing to both us and “forgeign” plants in the US). He has only ever had manufacturing jobs, so where exactly is he supposed to find new employment? I don’t know the answer but it isn’t just a black and white question.

  8. Submitted by Eric Glenne on 12/18/2008 - 03:19 pm.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Betty Tisel. MPR has been cherry-picking quality staff for years, even when they were MAKING money. Laid-off staff simply “disappear”. They’re told to leave the building at once and are not allowed to say goodbye or recieve so much as a “good job”. In 2007, they announced they were “tightening their belts” and then proceeded to buy a station in Florida.

    MPR still produces high quality radio, but it sold its soul in order to do so.

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