April 23, 2020; NPR, “Coronavirus Live Updates”
As the lockdown goes on, it’s probably time to revise some of those 2020 budget estimates. In New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has just upped its projected budget shortfall by a third to $150 million and simultaneously laid off 81 employees in its customer service and retail departments.
This story about The Met comes from NPR, which has problems of its own, having seen its sponsorship revenue take a dive and its costs climb to the tune of between $16 and $25 million. That organization is, however, doing all it can to avoid job cuts, according to CEO John Lansing, who took the time to make a point about the benefits of being nonprofit.
“Other news organizations are taking some drastic steps right now to deal with their finances,” Lansing writes. “They need to return profits to investors. We don’t. But we do need to survive financially and ensure NPR can continue to serve stations and the public for the coming years, so all of our resources go toward public service.”
This doesn’t mean job cuts won’t become necessary at some point, but first, he writes, they’ll try to make it through by freezing new hiring, bonuses, and raises, along with scaling back travel, conferences and promotions.
Despite the fact that the public is consuming news at a far greater rate than usual, including at NPR, revenues have not kept pace. The New York Times estimates that 33,000 employees at news organizations have been laid off, furloughed, or had their pay cut since the pandemic began to take hold in this country.
In the end, Lansing says, he is still unable to make projections that will last any real length of time. “I expect by mid-May/June, we’ll have a better sense of what steps we may need to take this year.”
Many of us will find ourselves in a similar position. While we can—and should—contemplate specific scenarios now, unexpected factors are bound to intervene. So on top of planning for specific scenarios, we ought to build a set of principles and priorities against which decisions can be measured. Keeping a board/staff committee on alert is also important, as the landscape continues to change in unprecedented ways.—Ruth McCambridge