MPR cuts jobs due to funding crunch amid pandemic

Reporter Martin Moylan crawls under the table to mic an interviewee.
MPR News reporter Martin Moylan crawls under the table to mic an interviewee to keep out of the camera shots of other news outlets. He is one of 14 staffers from MPR and American Public Media who are voluntarily leaving the company due to the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 
Courtesy of The Star Tribune

Updated: May 14, 2020 at 4:45 p.m. | Posted: May 13, 2020 at 5 p.m.

The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has led to steep budget cuts at media companies around the state — and around the country.

On Monday, Minnesota Public Radio’s parent company, American Public Media Group, announced that 14 staffers from MPR and American Public Media had taken voluntary buyouts — and about the same number of employees will also be taking voluntary furloughs. 

“We are currently facing the biggest financial test we’ve ever faced,” APMG spokesperson Angie Andresen said in a statement. “We’ve already reduced executive compensation and we’re looking at every compassionate way we can adjust our expenses to our new revenue realities.”

The company allowed employees to apply for voluntary separation in May, and accepted all applications it received. Departing employees will leave the company in late May and early June. Staffers who applied for voluntary furloughs are discussing implementation plans with the company. 

MPR operates three regional services: MPR News, Classical MPR and The Current. APM produces and distributes national programming like Marketplace and Live from Here. Parent company APMG also includes Southern California Public Radio in Pasadena, Calif.

Andresen didn’t say how many employees took buyouts from each of its divisions. But at least six are longtime journalists at MPR News. 

They include Laura McCallum, interim director of MPR News; deputy managing editor Lorna Benson; executive producer Kate Moos; senior editor Eric Ringham; Jim Bickal, senior producer of MPR News with Angela Davis; and business reporter Martin Moylan

Collectively, they have over 130 years of experience at MPR News, and even more as journalists in Minnesota: Ringham came to MPR after a long career at the Star Tribune, and Moylan began his radio career at MPR News after a 16-year stint at the Pioneer Press. 

“I’ve had people proclaim that I’m ‘famous’ and get excited about speaking with me because they’ve heard me on MPR,” Moylan said. “That reflects, of course, the respect and affection people have for MPR News. It’s been fun being part of that team.”

Moylan added that he hopes the voluntary departures preclude or at least mitigate the need to terminate or furlough anyone involuntarily.

Other media companies across the state and nation have also made cuts as they contend with steep drops in advertising revenue, at a time when their audiences have grown along with the public’s appetite for news about the coronavirus crisis. 

Many outlets have furloughed or laid off staff or cut journalists’ hours; some papers have shrunk the size of their printed editions, or eliminated print editions on certain days. 

Only one of the six has announced their next plans. This summer, Kate Moos will join Sahan Journal, a nonprofit news site founded by former MPR News staffer Mukhtar Ibrahim that covers news for and about immigrants and refugees in Minnesota. 

“We are devastated by the loss of these colleagues,” stewards of the SAG-AFTRA union, which represents members of the MPR newsroom and the investigative unit APM Reports, said in a statement.

“The company has signaled that more job cuts may be needed. Union leaders have repeatedly offered to work in good faith with management to avoid eliminating positions during this time when journalism is of the utmost importance.”

MPR President Duchesne Drew said in a statement that the company takes its responsibility to protect the organization’s mission seriously. “We don’t act without considering the impact of our decisions on our listeners, our colleagues and the long-term health of the organization,” he said.

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