Maine Public Broadcasting cuts staff, puts show on hiatus after further loss in funds

By Ben Mook

Facing a $400,000 funding shortfall, Maine Public Broadcasting Network said Friday it will lay off nearly 10 percent of its workforce and put a locally produced show on hiatus.

MPBN was already facing a $260,000 reduction in state funding before the federal government’s automatic budget cuts took effect, adding another $100,000. That prompted cost-cutting measures mainly coming from the dual licensee’s television-production unit.

Up to 10 staff members could be laid off while some might be eligible for early retirement. MPBN currently has approximately 100 full- and part-time employees. The cuts are expected to save $450,000 in salaries and benefits.

“Our hands were tied — no one likes to do this,” said Mark Vogelzang, president of MPBN. “It’s not a decision we made lightly. We were faced with a financial situation that we needed to resolve this year and made our decision on where to make the cuts based on our long-term goals.” Saving resources will allow MPBN to bolster news coverage and increase its digital presence, Vogelzang said.

Television production was targeted because it’s “one of the most significant cost drivers” at the pubcaster, Vogelzang said. Maine Watch, a weekly news program produced by MPBN, is being shelved as part of the plan until the organization “recovers from these funding issues.”

All other local TV production, including high-school basketball coverage and Maine Capitol Connection, which covers the legislature, will not be affected. “We are taking these cuts so we can avoid having future job cuts down the road, which is important because we still want to grow as an organization,” Vogelzang said.

While state funding will be reduced year-to-year for the upcoming 2014 fiscal year, the pubcaster has weathered two successive efforts to zero out funding. The budget before lawmakers for fiscal year 2014 includes $1.69 million in funding for MPBN.

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