KQED lays off coronavirus reporters, other staff due to sponsorship decline

The logo of public broadcaster KQED (Logo: KQED, Graphic: The Desk)

San Francisco public media outlet KQED has laid off 20 employees as the broadcaster struggles to raise much-needed sponsorship revenue during the global health pandemic.

The layoffs were first noted in a news report published by KQED (Channel 9, 88.5 FM) on Tuesday.

Michael Isip, KQED’s president and chief executive, said the layoffs were necessary to offset a sharp decline in sponsorship revenue. The media company is suffering the same effects as commercial broadcasters who have seen a similar decrease in commercial ad revenue during the coronavirus pandemic.

Two temporary journalist who were tasked with reporting on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic were released from their contracts early, KQED said. A part-time managing editor and full-time limited term journalist were also among those laid off this week.

Station executives project a $7.1 million budget gap when the next fiscal year begins in October. Senior leaders at KQED agreed earlier this year to a 12 percent reduction in salary in order to offset some of that lost revenue. KQED also applied for and received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan from the federal government, which the station said covered the salaries of workers for three months.

But the loan and the salary cuts weren’t enough, KQED officials said, and this week’s layoffs were another necessary step to address the constriction in sponsorship funds.

The 20 laid off workers will be invited to apply for eight full-time and limited-term positions at KQED. Five of the eight open positions are newsroom jobs.

To further address the budget gap, KQED said it will stop matching contributions to the company’s 403(b) retirement fund starting in October. It will also implement a company-wide salary freeze for non-union workers and require non-essential staff to take furloughs in December 2020 and July 2021.

In addition to the San Francisco broadcast outlets, KQED operates KQEH (Channel 54) in San Jose and the local news website KQED.org. The company simulcasts its San Francisco radio signal into Sacramento via repeater station KQEI (89.3 FM).

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