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WBUR is laying off 29 staffers, ending production of "Only A Game"

WBUR is cutting more than 10 percent of its staff and stopping production of the nationally syndicated sports program “Only A Game,” the public radio station reports

Station leaders told staff the moves are part of a restructuring that was exacerbated by the recession sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. The cuts come a week after the NPR affiliate station reached its first, tentative bargaining agreement with the union representing the reporters, editors, producers, content creators, and production staff at the public radio station.

In a statement, the union said it was “dismayed that Boston University and WBUR management implemented these layoffs while our unit is voting to ratify our first contract.”

Twenty-nine staff members were laid off in the restructuring, which included the cancellation of the NPR program “Only A Game” as well as the podcast “Kind World.”

“As a result of the confirmed layoffs, we will lose at least 120 years of combined station experience from our unit alone,” the union said. “The average WBUR tenure of the members we know to be affected is 14 years. The cuts have been widespread and they will affect reporters, producers, announcers and engineers — as well as a number of managers and people who have worked behind the scenes to help our station thrive.”

In part of a memo from Chief Executive Margaret Low obtained and released by WBUR, the station leader called the layoffs a “difficult choice” and said they were due to the “economic fallout” from the pandemic. “Only A Game” will end production by the close of September, and “Kind World” will end its run in July, she wrote. In addition, the podcast “Modern Love” will be taken over by The New York Times at the end of June. 

“The changes I’m making are necessary to streamline the organization and to reflect the budget realities of the moment,” she wrote. “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.”

Low told staff the station would honor the layoff provisions of the tentative union agreement. 

The layoffs follow a day after cuts were announced at public radio stations WBEZ in Chicago and MPR in Minnesota. News media outlets are among the many industries facing severe financial impacts from the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of the restructuring, Managing Director of News and Programming Sam Fleming will retire, which Low told WBUR had been planned since last year. 

Low, who joined the station in January taking over the role of GM after the departure of Charlie Kravetz, reportedly said she hopes to avoid additional layoffs, according to WBUR. 

“One would be not smart to say anything’s impossible,” she told WBUR. “The world as we know it changed, and changed again, overnight. I’m hopeful.”

According to WBUR, remaining station employees will see reductions in total compensation as Boston University, which owns the station’s license, suspends retirement contributions. Low told the station she is taking a 10 percent pay cut and non-union wages will be frozen into the next fiscal year.

Executive News Director Tom Melville, Digital Managing Director John Davidow, and Director of Operations and Production Peter Lydotes are among the staff affected by the layoffs, according to the station.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Margaret Low started working at WBUR in November 2019. She began working at the station in January 2020.

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