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NYC’s Biggest Nonprofit Newsrooms Face Massive Layoffs, Salary Cuts

Mismanagement, flagging ad revenue, and waffling megadonors leave journalists paying the price.

5:56 PM EDT on September 26, 2023

Two pillars of New York City nonprofit news are being hit with layoffs and paycuts this month, after years of robust fundraising led to a level of staffing that management at both outlets now find they cannot sustain.

Last week, Semafor broke the story that the four-year-old nonprofit the CITY experienced a drop of $1.5 million in funding this year when compared to the prior year, leading a senior reporter to leave his position and the outlet to institute pay cuts for the remaining journalists. Today, New York Public Radio, the parent organization of WNYC, Gothamist, and WQXR, announced that it intends to lay off 12 percent of its staff in the coming days, amounting to around 40 employees. 

In statements regarding their financial problems, management at both nonprofits put the blame on forces outside of their control. In a statement to Semafor, the CITY's executive director Nic Dawes said that the outlet was "not exempt from the forces affecting philanthropy and the wider media sector," while New York Public Radio's President and CEO LaFontaine Oliver chalked up the budget gap to "economic headwinds" and "macroeconomic factors" that have led to a drop in membership revenue as well as corporate sponsorships. 

In 2023, the CITY saw a few of its major funders, like the Ford Foundation, back out completely, while others, like craig newmark philanthropies, drastically cut the size of their donation to the outlet (Full disclosure: craig newmark philanthropies has also given Hell Gate money.) On top of that drop in institutional support, as Semafor more recently reported, management at the CITY, in consultation with an outside accounting firm, drastically miscalculated the amount of money the organization had—meaning that some newer staff were hired without the money to pay for their positions. 

Workers at the CITY, who are not currently unionized, were able to spare layoffs at the organization by agreeing to take a pay cut beginning in November. Reporters will now work four days a week, with the state's unemployment insurance covering 20 percent of their lost wages. A source at the CITY says this amounts to around a 15 percent pay cut, depending on an employee's starting salary. 

Sources at the CITY told Hell Gate that as part of the cost-cutting, Dawes agreed to cut his salary by 25 percent, a move that was retroactive to the beginning of this year. According to the CITY's last tax filing for the year 2021, Dawes was being paid just short of $350,000 annually. "Management also voluntarily accepted equivalent or deeper salary reductions" as employees, a spokesperson for the CITY told Hell Gate. Richard Kim, the CITY's editor-in-chief, also took the same pay cut that non-management staff received, according to sources.

Over at New York Public Radio, which has been seemingly perpetually plagued by turmoil, workers have been told for weeks that cuts were on the way, because of a large and growing budget deficit at the organization that reached over $10 million by this summer. According to an NYPR spokesperson, the organization has been aware of the looming budget crunch since last December. But in contrast to management at the CITY, while NYPR cut its senior leadership's annual bonuses this year (which tend to range from $80,000 to $150,000 each) there were no other pay cuts taken by NYPR's management. Earlier this month, WNYC's chief content officer, Andrew Golis, left the company. Golis's departure occurred months after the controversial cancellation of "The Takeaway," which occurred as host Melissa Harris-Perry was sparring with Golis over her treatment at the company. According to its most recent tax filings, Golis had an annual salary of roughly $500,000; he has yet to be replaced at the company. The NYPR CEO and president is traditionally paid even more handsomely: Oliver's predecessor, Goli Sheikholeslami, was making over $800,000 in her last full year at the company. And longtime NYPR CEO Laura Walker made close to $2 million during her final year at the company.

Unlike the CITY, NYPR employees are unionized with SAG-AFTRA. Even before Tuesday's announcement, the union had a scheduled meeting with management to discuss layoffs, and possible alternatives to them, including buyouts and executive pay cuts, according to a source close to the negotiations. In an email to union members at the station, union shop stewards wrote that they were "all deeply frustrated and concerned by [Oliver's] announcement today." 

An NYPR spokesperson did not respond to follow-up questions about whether management was considering executive pay cuts or a furlough program similar to the one put into place at the CITY. 

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