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Important Message About WBUR From CEO Margaret Low

Below is an excerpt from the opening of a staff memo regarding organizational restructuring for FY21:

I have important news to share about a significant reorganization and some of the difficult choices I’ve had to make because of the economic fallout of the past several months.

To begin, we are laying off 29 people. Many of them are part time staff. This means valued colleagues are losing their jobs at a very challenging time and will be leaving WBUR over the next days, weeks and months. We’ve already been in touch with everyone who is immediately affected by the changes.

While I’m confident that WBUR has a bright future, this is a hard moment — because longtime coworkers and friends will be departing.

There will also be some shared sacrifice. There will be no wage increases for FY21, except for negotiated union salary adjustments, and there will be no contributions to retirement funds. And we’ve developed a much reduced budget for the next fiscal year. The WBUR Board approved a FY20 budget of just under $46 million. For FY21, the Board will be presented a budget of just over $40 million.

Beyond the layoffs, we will reduce expenses across the board. Most notably — we are eliminating seven unfilled positions, cutting travel and marketing costs and canceling various contracted services. I’m taking a 10% salary cut.

In addition, we will stop production of Only A Game at the end of September. The New York Times will take over the wildly successful Modern Love podcast at the end of the month, and Kind World, which blossomed from a digital experiment back in 2012 into an award winning Morning Edition feature and podcast, will end its run in July.

At the same time as we are losing cherished colleagues, this restructuring means that we will be hiring for a number of new positions that will make WBUR stronger.

The changes I’m making are necessary to streamline the organization and to reflect the budget realities of the moment. But beyond this restructuring, there is much more work to be done to forge our long term strategic future. Over the summer, we will begin to fully articulate what will define our journalism and our programming going forward and what it will take to become even more essential in people’s lives.

My decisions rest on four pillars — three that I’m addressing immediately with this reorganization and a fourth that I will enlist all of you in tackling in the days and months ahead:

  • Editorial Excellence — we must strive to be the most trusted and beloved source of local news in Boston and beyond, distinguished in a competitive media landscape by the quality and ambition of our journalism and our programming.
  • Organizational Efficiency and Effectiveness — we must ensure that WBUR is a disciplined and well-run operation that supports and empowers people, holds them accountable and reflects our values at every turn.
  • Economic Sustainability — we must rightsize the organization so we aren’t spending more money than we are bringing in. At the same time we must double down on generating revenue and finding new ways to fuel WBUR.
  • The Road Ahead — there are two issues of great consequence to our future that require our concerted attention.

The first is racial equity. In the weeks following the police killing of George Floyd, we have witnessed a global outpouring of people calling for racial justice — and an end to the profound inequities that have defined the American experience. These days are filled with anguish, but endowed with the possibility of achieving lasting change.

This reckoning demands that we confront elements of systemic racism that have persisted in our country and our institutions, even as we’ve expressed a commitment to diversity. WBUR is not exempt from this examination — we have a lot of work to do. And it can’t be addressed by simply restating our values of inclusion. This effort must be different in kind and substance than anything we’ve done before. It requires change in every aspect of our culture, our coverage, our hiring and our leadership development. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m committed to leading the way and not letting up. Our future depends on it.

Second, our future also depends on identifying how we continue to grow our audience and cultivate the loyalty and financial support that is essential to sustaining our journalism. This is a time of profound technological change and the clock is ticking. WBUR has been a credible digital innovator. But as listening habits and media consumption patterns continue to shift, we have to confront how we reach new audiences and become even more relevant in people’s lives. So that they can’t imagine a day without WBUR. And they believe we’re worthy of their support.

Both of these efforts will require the investment of every single person at WBUR.

Concluding excerpt:

Organizational changes of this magnitude are hard. But they are also necessary to insure that we are financially sound and in fighting shape to deliver on big ambitions. This is a two step process. First, we had to deal with the current financial reality and make the necessary organizational changes. Next, we will begin to lay out our strategy and chart our path forward.

To those who are leaving, I’m sorry that you are departing at this difficult moment in the country and the world. I’m enormously grateful for the years that you have devoted to making WBUR such an exceptional place. You will exit with my profound gratitude and a promise to build on the legacy you leave behind.

To those who are staying — thank you for all you’re doing to keep WBUR strong. Your work has never been more consequential. That is what gives us the stamina and resolve to press on — even during the hardest hours. We play a vital role in Boston and beyond. Serving the public. Reporting the truth. Enriching lives. It is a galvanizing cause — one that is impossible to equal.

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