NPR cancels four podcasts in effort to bounce back after major operating loss

Louder Than A Riot podcast claims that POC and Queer staff were the majority affected by NPR lay-offs

Non-profit US media organisation NPR has announced that it has cancelled the production of three more podcasts within the network in an effort to cut costs after facing $30 million in operating budget loss in February this year. 

The podcasts that were cut from the budget include human behavioural science podcast Invisibilia which has operated since 2015, hip-hop podcast Louder Than A Riot, news podcast Rough Translation, and comedy podcast Everyone & Their Mom which was a spin-off of radio program Wait Wait Don't Tell Me.

“We literally are fighting to secure the future of NPR at this very moment by restructuring our cost structure. It's that important,” said NPR chief executive officer John Lansing in an interview with the organisation. "It's existential."

In addition to the podcast cuts, NPR also announced that it was laying off 10% of its workforce, which will amount to at least 100 positions being eliminated. The Louder Than A Riot podcast stated in a series of tweets that it was cut two weeks before a new season with a 10-week run was supposed to be published, although the network reportedly asked staff to stay on until June to finish the show. 

The Louder Than A Riot podcast also claimed that the majority that were impacted by the NPR layoffs were “queer, poc staff, and programs”, including three producers and one editor of the show, despite the network stating that it will preserve its “North Star” initiative which aims to diversify its audiences. 

“DEI spells DIE within corporate media. All my people are expendable here. Our culture is only valuable when it can be thoroughly commodified,” said Louder Than A Riot podcast co-host and co-creator Rodney Carmichael in a tweet. “If covering the most-consumed genre on the planet is not financially viable at this institution, public media ain’t truly for the public.” 

The We Make NPR union previously sent out a list of demands to the organisation in September 2020 to improve racial and ethnic diversity, equity, and inclusion amongst staff and came to a collective bargaining agreement to codify many of the demands in October 2021. However, the union released a statement at the end of February this year amidst the news of the lay-offs of POC staff members stating that there is still a way to go for the organisation to improve its DEI. 

“The recent series of departures of staffers of colour from across the organisation — some headline-making, many below the public’s radar — have only underlined what has long been true: The need for change is urgent, and a commitment to change must be sustained,” said the union in a statement. “For example, while there have been improvements in the racial and ethnic diversity among recent hires, many SAG-AFTRA members see supporting and retaining staffers of colour as a key challenge for management, according to a recent union survey.”

The current round of layoffs at NPR is reportedly the largest reduction of staff that the network has faced since the 2008 recession and affected a number of staff members that worked behind the scenes in production, design, research, and other functions. A number of senior staff members have also chosen to leave the network including senior european correspondent Sylvia Poggioli who was with the company for 41 years. 

None of NPR's radio programs were cancelled, nor were the podcasts that evolved from the network’s radio programs, as they were considered “essential” to keep moving forward, according to the company. Additionally, its investigative podcast series Embedded will become an umbrella channel which will host all of NPR’s investigative and enterprise narrative series. 

Members of NPR’s ad-services arm National Public Media were also said to not have been included in this current round of lay-offs, as they went through their own downsizing process earlier this year. The company has negotiated with the union to enhance the laid-off staff’s severance packages above what is currently required by their previous collective bargaining agreement. 

NPR is the latest organisation to join a list of other major networks that have recently had to face staff lay-offs and program cuts due to budget issues, including audio giant Spotify which laid-off 6% of its staff due to $200 million in operating loss reported at the end of 2022.