KPCC shifts priorities: Cuts three reporters and leaves Sacramento

scpr-sign-kpcc.jpgThe staff at KPCC was told recently that two general assignment reporter slots are being eliminated and the Sacramento bureau closed. At least one of the affected staffers has been offered another job with the station. This comes as the station is negotiating with the newsroom union on the first contract since the staff voted in the union last January, and amid reports that recent fundraising has not gone as well as hoped. But at the same time, the newsroom is still hiring. Russ Stanton, the VP for content at KPCC, tells me the station is not in financial trouble but he acknowledges concern about "headwinds" ahead — including the added costs of lawyers for the union negotiations and paying for the contract when it goes into effect. He says the 95-person newsroom is continuing to grow. He said there have been eight new hires since October with a few more still to come this year, focused on beefing up health and environment coverage and adding to the digital and technology staff. KPCC last week unveiled a new app developed in-house.

The recent hires include a science and environment editor (Stephen Gregory), a community health care reporter (Adrian Florido) and a reporter-producer for the "Take Two" show (Dorian Merina.) The loss of the GA reporters and the Sacramento bureau, which had been staffed by correspondent Julie Small, was a shift in staffing and news priorities, Stanton said. He said the station may put a staffer back in Sacramento in 2015 and will use reports from Capital Public Radio in the meantime. The need to strengthen the health and environment teams and deepen the station's digital team took precedence, he said.

KPCC had 60 newsroom staff when Stanton arrived in January 2012 from the Los Angeles Times, where he was the top editor. The public radio station is engaged in a pretty bold transformation into a multi-platform news operation, using grants and creative fundraising. KPCC's website is already better as a local news source and more essential to me in my daily perusing than those of the Los Angeles News Group newspapers or any other LA news outlet other than the Times. KPCC's news staff of 95 is bigger than any of the individual print papers in LA County besides the Times, I'm fairly certain. (The Times still has a few hundred reporters and editors.) If you are keeping score, KPCC's news staff is much bigger than the news staff at crosstown public radio rival KCRW, where I am on the air every Monday as a commentator.

Not that it has all gone smoothly. The union was voted in last January on a split vote despite arguments against the union vote from top KPCC names such as Larry Mantle. Some of the more vocal union advocates have left the staff since. Then there was that extended brouhaha over the 2012 conversion of Madeleine Brand's highly rated morning news and interview show into a duet with newcomer A Martinez that was created largely to appeal to more Latino viewers. Brand resigned and was replaced as co-host by Alex Cohen, and the show added an hour; it now airs 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Brand is now at KCRW with a staff that is gearing up to launch a morning show to compete with her former colleagues in Pasadena.

The LA Weekly did a pretty extensive cover story on the turmoil at KPCC, which included some audience upset over the dropping of Patt Morrison's afternoon show. Stanton tells me the ratings for "Take Two," the name of the Martinez-Cohen show, are up substantially over a year ago and that the show has been successful at expanding KPCC's Latino audience.

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