CJR and NPR

The Columbia Journalism Review, one of the stalwarts of the industry, posted a story about the belt-tightening at NPR, including some interesting quotes:

Internally, some NPR journalists fear the focus on multiple content platforms will dull the concentration on NPR’s radio excellence. Externally, managers of some member stations believe NPR will attempt to bypass them altogether and reach listeners directly online, potentially upsetting their base of funding.

And NPR has problems in negotiations with two unions, one for engineers and the other for AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists:

The union [AFTRA] has been disappointed by what it sees as a larding of the management ranks. Beesley cited two recent hires to underscore his point. Keith Woods, a respected diversity expert who had been dean of faculty at the Poynter Institute, was brought on as vice president of diversity, a more senior title than NPR’s previous director of diversity and thus presumably with more clout. “That’s great,” Beesley said, “but what we desperately need are more young people from diverse backgrounds to bring their experience into our journalism. We don’t need another vice president to go to meetings and recommend more diverse hires only to be told, ‘There’s no more money. We spent it hiring you.’” The other new hire is Susanne Reber, deputy managing editor for investigations. She is an award-winning journalist who headed up an investigations unit for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and will oversee NPR’s first-ever investigative unit. NPR should pursue more investigations, Beesley said, but “management did not hire more investigative reporters. They hired a manager, and she can’t even edit because she’s not in AFTRA.” Beesley’s concern is that too much money is being spent on managers, leaving little to improve the lot of the people who create NPR’s content. And although she has promised that no one is discussing more layoffs to reduce the budget, Schiller won’t rule out more job losses over the next five years as technology advances lessen the need for some positions.

But the comments section contains some of the real zingers:

One issue that desperately needs reporting: NPR is decidedly anti-union, beginning with the people who are responsible for its sound.

The union (NABET) representing engineers at NPR is at a critical stage in contract negotiations with the company. Many engineers are afraid this will be their final contract because NPR is downsizing the engineering staff. NPR’s contract offer consists largely of buyouts, plus a diminishment of benefits, rights and working conditions that are designed to make engineers not even want to work there any longer. Employees in the other union at NPR, AFTRA, are next on the chopping block when they go to negotiate their next contract next year.

What NPR is offering NPR engineers:
The company is offering 2.5% wage increases per year for five years, with the first increase starting next January (meaning  two years without a raise). In exchange, for the next five years you must surrender all job jurisdiction, the right to bargain over health care and benefits, the right to get the company 403(b) contributions restored to its former level, the  right to bargain over working conditions such as the various leave policies (which become dictated by the employee manual, which management can change at their discretion), the right to influence the number of slots available for vacation, and the right to get paid double time for any work past twelve hours in a day. Buyouts between 10-14 months salary, including COBRA (keep your health care if you pay for it yourself) to 15 employees. The remainder subject to layoffs anytime. Company can have as many as 50% temps.

To register your feelings on this issue join a Facebook Group called People Who Like People Who Work @NPR.

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