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.]