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Facing deficit, MPR axes digital innovation chief Alvarado

A digital-innovation exec hired two years ago with great fanfare departs as MPR grapples with an end-of-budget-year deficit.

Joaquin Alvarado, hired in late 2009 to lead Minnesota Public Radio’s national digital efforts, has been let go along with four members of his Oakland-based software development team, a network spokesman confirms. Mike Reszler, an in-house digital strategist who formerly worked at the Pioneer Press, was promoted to V.P. for digital media.

The move comes as MPR and its national programming arm, American Public Media, grapple with an unspecified end-of-budget-year deficit. As local listeners know, MPR fell short in its last member drive, and I’ve heard estimates of a $2 million shortfall. Spokesman Bill Gray says that’s “way high,” but didn’t offer a figure, adding, “we take responsibility to be a good steward of member dollars, meet goals and balance our budget.”

Alvarado, a former senior vice president for Diversity and Innovation at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, came on board with great fanfare during the Bill Kling “Future of News” era. Gray says the shift reflects a centralization of software jobs in St. Paul, among existing staff, and toward “taking advantage of existing technology” instead of custom development.

One example: MPR|APM’s Public Insight Network, which funnels a source network toward newsgatherers around the country, recently deployed the freely available platform Tumblr for a new original-reporting project.

There are many folks inside MPR’s headquarters scratching their heads about how effective and well-viewed this nationally focused content will be. That’s now up to Reszler to sort out; PIN exec Linda Fantin and national digital director Nancy Cassutt will report to him.

Gray contends Reszler, a former reporter and editor, may be better positioned in this regard than the more technical Alvarado: “Having an award-winning journalist in charge of PIN strengthens our commitment, so the focus on PIN and journalism won’t be hurt.”