The alert for changes at Minnesota Public Radio went up two weeks ago. Reality arrived yesterday with the layoffs of nine staffers and a newsroom rearrangement that has Chris Worthington, the station’s VP for News, shifting to an as-yet unexplained role with an investigative unit and a “nationwide” search for his replacement.
NewsCut blogger Bob Collins tweeted his collegial farewells to those being let go. Among them, the two most surprising are PoliGraph/politics writer Catharine Richert and education reporter Alex Friedrich, both generally admired, at least among MPR consumers, for the thoroughness for their coverage.
Other layoffs include photographers Nikki Tundel, Jeffrey Thompson and Jennifer Simonson, reporters Chris Roberts, Emily Kaiser, David Cazares and host Beth Kidd.
MPR would not officially confirm those names, and as of this posting there has been no response to requests for interviews with Worthington and other MPR managers.
The obvious question is whether the departure of nine staffers, representing roughly $100,000/yr. each in wages and benefits at the “conventional wisdom” rate, suggests a necessary response to weaker than expected revenue from one source of the American Public Media Group or another.
Earlier this month Chief Operating Officer Dave Kansas asserted that the network is experiencing “growth” this year and expects to grow again next year.
The shift of Worthington, previously co-managing editor at the Pioneer Press, provokes questions as to his enthusiasm for the switch. Which in turn leads to questions regarding the precise scope and staffing/resources being applied to what the station is suggesting will be a more formalized investigative initiative. An effort springboarding off its successful, awardwinning “Betrayed by Silence” series on the various sexual abuse scandals covered by area Catholic dioceses.
Beyond that, Richert’s “PoliGraph” posts, researching and applying conclusive judgment to claims and assertions by politicians — a version of the Poynter Institute’s popular “PolitiFact” feature — would seem to be vital-to-the-point-of-indispensable commodity as we swing into another election cycle.
Similarly, Friedrich’s coverage of various education-related issues, from the U of M’s longrunning controversy over drug testing to the performance or lack thereof of for-profit colleges would seem to be a beat requiring more attention, not less.