Georgia Public Broadcasting trims staff, scales back ‘On Second Thought’

Originally posted Friday, January 10, 2020 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Georgia Public Broadcasting this week laid off a handful of news staff and will scale back its daily radio show “On Second Thought” to once a week from five days a week.

“On Second Thought,” hosted by Virginia Prescott and airing weekdays at 9 a.m., will only air Monday mornings starting January 27. It will repeat at 7 a.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. Sundays. Prescott will also be working on another unspecified project, spokeswoman Mandy Wilson said. 

The show was launched in October, 2014 as a statewide news show when GPB took over the daytime hours of Georgia State University’s 88.5/WRAS-FM. It was originally hosted by NPR’s Celeste Headlee, who left in 2018 and was replaced by Prescott. 

“Political Rewind,” hosted by Bill Nigut, airs daily at 2 p.m. and will get an extra airing at 9 a.m. the next day Tuesday through Friday to fill the hour left open by “On Second Thought.” 

“The expansion of ‘Political Rewind’ is part of our strong commitment to coverage in one of the hottest political years ever,” Wilson said. 

Photo: Bill Nigut will get more airtime on WRAS-FM for his "Political Rewind" show.

Among the staff cuts include on-air reporter Ross Terrell. 

Several producers also lost their jobs. 

GPB also laid off its lone Augusta employee last month and stopped leasing from Augusta University. 

Photo: Ross Terrell

‘None of the departures are state-funded positions and therefore not related to the mandatory budget cuts ordered by the state of Georgia,” said GPB CEO and President Teya Ryan in a memo to staff. 

But, Ryan continued, “the state’s directives did lead to the difficult task of looking through the whole of GPB’s budget, including our initiatives, programs and individuals funded through our other funds.” 

The station, for instance, is no longer funding its show “A Seat at the Table” featuring three black women (including Monica Pearson) of different generations talking about issues important to them. 

Some of the changes, Ryan said, are “realigning the company in a more digital savvy and lean direction.”

GPB, during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019, received $15,197,539 from the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. That figure has been pretty flat in recent years and represents 44 percent of GPB’s $34.7 million in revenues that year. 

Its other funding sources include service fees, federal grants, corporate sponsorship and individual support. 

GPB suffered a $5 million loss in FY2019, according to the most recent annual state audit. Ryan explained that GPB is “in the midst of an FCC mandated upgrade that has required major expenditures for seven of our nine towers.” The funds GPB received from an FCC Spectrum Auction, she said, were allotted to its separate GPB Foundation and then moved to GPB to cover the expenses on an on-going basis. The transfers don’t always match up with the expenditures, she said.

She also said GPB spent money making major improvements to studio facilities for the first time since the building opened in 1997. 

“Last year’s GPB audit and any proposed state mandated budget cuts have no correlation, and any adjustments that GPB has to make for our operating expenses for the remainder of FY2020 will not be based on audit figures,” she said. 

The goal going forward, Ryan said in her memo, is “any additional positions or initiatives added going forward are funded from the start. This is a much healthier approach for the future direction of this company.:

Here is the entire memo: 

Good afternoon, 

The last two days have been difficult at GPB. I want to take a moment to share with you a few thoughts behind the decisions that have led to the departure of a number of your colleagues. First, let me be clear in sharing that none of the departures are state funded positions and therefore not related to the mandatory budget cuts ordered by the state of Georgia. However, as a senior leadership team, the state’s directives did lead to the difficult task of looking through the whole of GPB’s budget, including our initiatives, programs and individuals funded through our other funds. Other funds are a combination of federal grants, corporate sponsorship and, of course, development revenue from individuals who support the nonprofit mission of our company. 

For a number of years GPB has grown successfully in the dollars raised. In the last five years alone, we have more than doubled our revenue from other sources. Unfortunately, we have continued to grow in our expenditures as well. The challenge set forth from the state allowed us to look holistically at our budget, and we know that now is the time to reduce expenses overall. As we have discussed before, the future of all media is digital, and GPB is not immune to these coming changes. Many of the adjustments you have seen in the content areas today and yesterday, including News and Production are the first step in realigning the company in a more digital savvy and lean direction. Additionally, there were changes in other areas of the business, including outsourcing functions, where it makes sense. Our hope is that, in this re-evaluation of resources, we have created a new starting point for GPB where any additional positions or initiatives added going forward are funded from the start. This is a much healthier approach for the future direction of this company. 

I fully understand that moments like this are difficult in the life of any company and the people who work there. As your leader, I want to assure you that these decisions were not taken lightly. Every departure and efficiency was thoroughly debated for months, and we will continue to evaluate the direction of GPB over the course of the next year. Ultimately, our first allegiance is to the people of Georgia. We owe it to them to fulfill our end of the bargain and offer the best in lifelong learning, educational resources and non-biased news and information from around the country and here in our own state. We also owe it to them to fulfill that mission in the most fiscally responsible way possible. It is their investment that funds the great work we do, and ultimately, we are the caretakers of GPB for them, and the many they represent who cannot make that gift of support for themselves. 


Should you have any questions about how your particular piece of GPB was affected today, please consult the senior leader of your division. All of us are open to conversations and sharing with you our thoughts on how we arrived at the decision that this is the right move right now. Also, as mentioned above, sometimes these kinds of events can lead to stress and concern in the workplace. If you would like to speak with an impartial professional, remember that GPB provides a confidential ear to you through our Employee Assistance Program. You can reach out to them at 833.276.0988 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or speak with our own Human Resources. 



Be assured that GPB remains a healthy and productive company well positioned for the future. And, know that you are a valued part of that company. We all have an important part to play in the viability of this place. Thank you for the continued role you play in GPB’s success. 

 

Regards, 

Teya

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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