Ellen Weiss, NPR’s vice president for news, sent the following note, obtained by FishbowlDC, to staffers today:
I wanted to share with you some details about where NPR and the News division are regarding this year’s budget. The News Division is currently over by $742,000, or about 2% — and at the current rate of spending, we are projected to be almost $3 million dollars over budget by the end of September, the end of the fiscal year. This is an earlier ballooning of expenses — last year at this time we were still under budget. Some of this overrun is the necessary cost of doing business — an unexpectedly long and demanding election season that exceeded even our generous budget planning, additional security and travel costs in Iraq as well as the weak dollar overseas. In addition, NPR is also seeing a serious slowdown in the sponsorship market (underwriting) and this year we reduced the prime time program license fees for Member stations so the revenue side of NPR is also projected to be far less optimistic than it was last year. In fact, last year, we ended up with a several million dollar surplus because our colleagues who sell the underwriting credits did better than expected.
So rather than wait until the 11th hour to look for cuts to stay on budget — I’ve asked all of your managers to identify savings now. Some of what we discussed:
Limit the discretionary travel. We aren’t going to stop covering the news, but we are going to place the bar slightly higher for when we send staff or hosts into the field. This won’t apply to breaking news stories, but really to those stories where we have more of a choice.
Limit overtime. I’ve asked your supervisors to really try to hold the line on overtime to just those hours that are essential to getting the job done under deadline.
Open positions. There are some open positions we will not fill. These will not be the jobs essential to our work — but there are some positions we will have to do without this year.
This savings is totally doable if we start now. And it will be particularly important for us to get our 2008 budget house in order before we head into FY2009, particularly if the economic picture remains the same.
Thanks in advance for your help in this effort.
This sponsorship problem is similar to the one affecting PBS’ “NewsHour.”