GBH laid off employees on Wednesday

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MATTHEW J. LEE/GLOBE STAFF

By Aidan Ryan Globe Staff,Updated May 22, 2024

Public media organization GBH laid off 31 employees, or 4 percent of its workforce, on Wednesday and suspended production of three television programs, CEO Susan Goldberg told employees.

“GBH, like many other media companies, is facing financial headwinds,” Goldberg wrote. “Although our business is complex and our industry is rapidly changing, the basic reason for these reductions is simple: revenues are flat and the cost of doing business has gone up.”

GBH, which operates one of Boston’s two public radio stations, is the latest media organization this year to cut staff in the face of financial challenges. Newsrooms across the country have been grappling with changing audience habits in the digital age, which have threatened traditional business models that long sustained newspapers, radio stations, and other media outlets.

Eleven of the 31 employees laid off were part of GBH’s newsroom, management told staff Wednesday, according to employees who were present for the meeting.

In addition to laying off staff across 13 departments, GBH will also stop producing “Greater Boston,” “Talking Politics,” and “Basic Black,” Goldberg said in her note, adding that the shows “no longer draw enough viewers to justify the cost of making them for television.” She added that GBH will “reinvent them as digital-first programming,” but did not share details on what that will look like.

“Basic Black,” which was initially called “Say Brother,” started in 1968 amid the civil rights movement to cover issues of importance to people of color.

“It was filling in and responding to a need in the community,” said Juan Cofield, former president of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP. The show’s suspended production, he added, “is going to be harmful to the Black community.”

Laid-off staff were notified in one-on-one meetings, multiple former GBH employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Globe. They added that they felt blindsided by the decision and were dismayed that GBH was cutting the three television programs.

Goldberg added that GBH will also stop its Jazz 24/7 stream and expand GBH Music’s Jazz on 89.7 with overnight weekend hours.

A steward of the union representing some newsroom employees complained that workers had to continue producing their shows while unsure of whether their jobs were being terminated.

“Susan [Goldberg] has repeatedly assured newsroom staff in multiple meetings that local news is of utmost importance to her,” said Zoe Mathews, a steward and senior radio producer at GBH. “Today’s layoffs are in direct contradiction of her statements about and directly to the newsroom. … [What] happened today — and the way it happened — is a disgrace to an organization that holds itself up to the public as a vital source of community news, transparency, and accountability.”

Jim Braude, the co-host of GBH’s Boston Public Radio, told listeners Wednesday morning that the station had started laying people off.

“This is going to be a really tough show for us today,” Braude said as he opened his 11 a.m. show, Boston Public Radio, with co-host Margery Eagan. “This morning, we learned that layoffs are happening at GBH today, including in the newsroom.”

Braude said he learned from his just-terminated colleagues about the layoffs, but managers had not communicated about the job losses yet.

“It’s really disturbing,” Braude said, adding: “We just want our coworkers to know we care about them, and we will do whatever we can to help them in any way that we can.”

Eagan added: “I feel horrible. My heart goes out to people who have lost their jobs.”

A GBH spokesperson declined to comment beyond Goldberg’s letter to staff.

As of April, GBH’s newsroom had about 100 employees, out of roughly 850 workers across the organization.

Based in Brighton, GBH includes public radio and television stations, a digital news operation, and produces podcasts and PBS programming such as “Antiques Roadshow,” “Nova,” and “Frontline.”

GBH had previously warned employees of potential layoffs and slashed end-of-year bonuses for all staff, the Globe reported in March.

Goldberg and other GBH executives told staff in March that revenue had been stable, but costs have increased in recent years, the Globe reported last month. The organization reported an $18.7 million operating deficit last year, $7 million of which came from GBH’s core entities that include its newsroom and PBS production business.

The layoffs came two days after GBH News general manager Pam Johnston announced she would leave the station after roughly four years in the role. Johnston previously spent more than eight years as an executive at “Frontline.”

Johnston spearheaded a digital push at GBH News in an effort to make the organization more relevant online and expand beyond television and radio.

“Our overall audience reach has doubled in the last five years because of this digital growth,” Goldberg and chief operating officer Shane Miner told staff Monday.

Some at GBH had taken issue with the emphasis on digital strategy, and felt that newsroom leadership had fostered a culture of fear and intimidation at GBH, the Globe previously reported. Johnston had previously apologized if her comments had ever led some employees to feel like they were not heard or their contributions to the organization didn’t matter.

Other public media organizations have also laid off staff in recent months, including in Boston.

90.9 WBUR — which, along with 89.7 GBH, represents Boston’s two NPR news stations — laid off seven employees last month, and an additional 24 staffers took voluntary buyouts, meaning roughly 14 percent of the outlet departed.

WBUR’s on-air corporate sponsorship revenue — also known as advertising — has fallen more than 40 percent over the past five years. The station also said it would cut travel expenses and switch its coffee vendor to help cut $4 million from its budget.

Globe correspondent Esha Walia contributed reporting.


Aidan Ryan can be reached at . Follow him @aidanfitzryan.

2 Comments

  1. Charles Kelley on May 24, 2024 at 5:41 pm

    The Mission Statement of NPR in 1969 included the following:

    The priorities of NPR program development are to:
    1. Provide an identifiable daily product, which is consistent and reflects the highest standards of broadcast journalism.
    2. Provide extended coverage of public events, issues, and ideas, and acquire and produce special public affairs programs.
    3. Acquire and produce cultural programs, which can be scheduled individually by stations.
    4. Provide access to the intellectual and cultural resources of cities, universities and rural districts through a system of cooperative program development with member public radio stations.
    5. Develop and distribute programs to specific groups, adult education and structural modular units for local productions, which meet the needs of individual regions or groups.
    6. Establish liaison with foreign broadcasters for a program exchange service.
    7. Produce materials specifically intended to develop the art, and technical potential of radio.

    Since then, NPR has become overwhelmingly (albeit, not exclusively):
    News and Talk
    News and Talk
    News and Talk

    And the WGBH radio newsroom has grown from Robert J. Lurtsema ripping copy off the AP wire early in the morning to about 100 people on the news staff (shared with TV side?)

    Make of that what you will.

  2. Marcy De Veaux on May 24, 2024 at 4:53 pm

    A sad day on the Great Blue Hill.

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