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MPR, national parent lay off 10 employees, citing ‘challenges’

MPR and its national programming arm, American Public Media, say they are “reorganizing around two key areas: content and development.”

They’ve been walking on eggshells this week at MPR headquarters in St. Paul amid persistent rumors of layoffs. Today, 10 employees were let go in what was described as a strategic restructuring.

Morning Edition engineer Rick “Scooter” Hebzynski, p.r. pro Christina Schmitt and digital archivist Jenel Farrell are among those laid off. It sounds like local reporters, editors and hosts were spared. However, (no connection to The Current) is reporting that Marketplace D.C. chief John Dimsdale, an employee of American Public Media (MPR’s national equivalent), got the pink slip. 

In a statement, MPR CEO Jon McTaggart said:

“There’s no question today’s constantly changing media landscape presents challenges, but we at APM also see opportunities. The changes we are making today are really about APM’s future and help to position us for future audience service and growth.

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“We are reorganizing around two key areas: content and development.  We are aligning our priorities to focus on two main divisions that create value for our audiences and cultivate vital relationships with our members, donors and funders.  The result is a more streamlined organization design that gives us a strong footing as we look ahead.”

In a memo to employees, McTaggart dubbed this “Project 50,” which will “increase our focus on indispensable content, which will earn growth in audience and revenue.”

Dave Kansas, McTaggart’s successor as COO, will be ” ‘publisher’ of all content,” according to the memo. MPR News, Marketplace and Digital Media will report to the former Wall Street Journal staffer.

Financially, according to recent federal form 990s, MPR|APM is still trying to get back to the halcyon days of the mid-2000s. Revenue as of June 2011 was still below 2008 levels, and MPR|APM has lost money operationally for the past three years.

The company lost $1.8 million in fiscal 2010 (through June 2011), after losing $785,000 in 2009. Both pale in comparison to a $9 million hit in 2008, the depth of the economic crisis, when investments lost $4.9 million.

MPR made $5.4 million in 2007, its last profitable fiscal year. However, in his memo, McTaggart said fiscal year 2012, which closed three weeks ago, showed “record support.”

The company also has a strong balance sheet — net assets as of June 2011 were $104 million, down from $110 million three years earlier but up from 2008 and 2009. Membership dues rose from $14.9 million in 2008 to $18.1 million in 2010.

Despite growing losses, salaries — at least a year ago — were rising. Bill Kling, who stepped down last year as president and CEO, saw compensation climb from $593,000 in fiscal year 2009 to $683,785 in 2010. McTaggart, then COO, saw compensation rise from $365,506 to $428,672. Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal booked an increase from $234,464 to $240,790.

Here’s McTaggart’s memo:

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The work we do, across the American Public Media Group, now reaches over 17 million people each week. That’s a big number. But the number I keep in mind each day is “one.” One person, listening to one voice, at one engaging moment.  It takes our collective efforts to make that happen — our indispensable content, informative stories, inspiring music and innovative events engage each individual who is part of that 17 million.

Our future path will be defined by creating and curating even more indispensable content, expanding our loyal audiences, and making an intentional and positive impact in communities. Today we are announcing changes aligned with our future priorities, and we will roll-out our new five-year strategic plan next week — the working title for our plan is “Project 50.”

Today’s media landscape includes some real challenges; but with focus, and by investing our collective talents and passion, we will celebrate the success of Project 50 five years from now on our 50th anniversary in 2017. We all have important roles in Project 50, and success will require creativity, resourcefulness, innovative ideas and active participation in shaping our path forward.  Please join me for the important meetings we have scheduled for next week for All Staff — look for Project 50 meeting invitations that will be sent via email soon.

Today we are making changes to our organizational structure to increase our focus on indispensable content, which will earn growth in audience and revenue. We are organizing our public service around two Divisions — Content and Development — with core services supporting these vital audience-facing areas. This moves us from a “matrix” structure to a simpler and more streamlined organization design.

The new structure involves changes to some leadership responsibilities. As Chief Operating Officer and SVP of Content, Dave Kansas will lead the Content Division and serve as “publisher” of all content. This will leverage his experience in global news, business journalism and digital media. Teams now reporting directly to Dave Kansas include Marketplace, led by JJ Yore; MPR News, led by Chris Worthington; Arts & Ideas Programming (including On Being, Splendid Table, ARW, Wits, andDinner Party), led by Peter Clowney; Digital Media, led by Mike Reszler; Technology & Operations, led by Nick Kereakos; International & Affiliate Partnerships and the Distribution team, led by Judy McAlpine (which includes the BBC World Service and all content distribution); and Music Services, led by Tim Roesler (including all national Classical programming, and regional Classical services; Classical South Florida, Classical MPR, and The Current). Tim will also retain the General Manager title for MPR and continue to lead the collaborative work among Minnesota’s three services that is essential to MPR’s success.

Dave Kansas will also ensure collaboration across the APM Group, connecting the distinctive work of Southern California Public Radio, Classical South Florida and Greenspring Media Group and the Boards of Trustees of these entities.

The Development Division will be led by Randi Yoder, SVP and Chief Development Officer.  The Underwriting team, led by Kathy Golbuff, will re-join the Development Division and Kathy, along with the leaders of Institutional Giving, Major Gifts and Membership, will report to Randi.

Shared Services will focus support on audience growth, revenue growth and community engagement across the organization.  Mary Nease continues as Chief Human Resource Officer and SVP of Shared Services, with the following: Marketing & Communications, led by Mary Pat Ladner, and the leaders of Inclusion & Community Impact, Convening, and Human Resources.

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Mark Alfuth continues to lead the Finance team as Chief Financial Officer and SVP.  Tom Kigin continues to serve as General Counsel, Chief Administrative Officer and Executive Vice President, responsible for Legal Services and Public Affairs.

Dave Kansas, Randi Yoder, Mary Nease, Mark Alfuth and Tom Kigin will continue to report to me.

These changes will better-enable us to achieve our vision and new goals, and improve our daily decision-making. Regrettably, as part of this restructuring, ten positions have been eliminated.  Managers met with the affected staff members this morning, and we thank those who are leaving our organization for their lasting and valued contributions.

I want to thank the entire APM team for your hard work and efforts resulting in a strong FY12, which just ended on June 30. We created tremendous value for our audiences and we experienced record support during FY12, and we have exciting plans and goals for 2013, and beyond.

Our future path will include some challenges and likely some surprises, so we have set clear, ambitious and achievable goals to guide our audience service and growth for the next five years.  Together, we can continue to build a strong and growing, yet flexible, organization. We can develop new ways to support the business needs and we can strengthen our collaborative and creative culture to help us seize the opportunities we might not yet imagine.  The changes we are implementing this week are solid and important steps forward on this path.

Next week’s launch of Project 50 will provide clarity about our priorities and goals. Please plan to participate in one of the Project 50 meetings next week.  I look forward to meeting with you.