Houston Public Media eliminates eight full-time positions

By Mike Janssen

Houston Public Media announced Nov. 7 the layoffs of eight staffers as part of a reorganization to create more multiplatform arts coverage.

Four of the eliminated staffers hosted locally programmed classical music on KUHA-FM, one of the broadcaster’s two radio stations. HPM will replace the local shows with American Public Media’s Classical 24 service, though it will continue to air weekly broadcasts from the Houston Symphony. HPM also laid off two technical staff and two membership assistants.

The changes advance a reorganization that got underway in 2011, when the University of Houston, HPM’s owner, began merging the staffs of its two pubcasting operations, KUHT/HoustonPBS and dual-service pubradio stations KUHA and news/talk KUHF. HPM is reassigning staff to produce content for all platforms — radio, TV and online — following the example of “converged” TV/radio networks such as San Diego’s KPBS and Cleveland’s ideastream.

Early this summer, the Houston pubcaster laid off two managers: Debra Fraser, director of operations; and Emily Binetti, communications director. But as it eliminated some jobs, it added others, said HPM Executive Director and General Manager Lisa Shumate, who plans to build the stations’ production capacity with more hires.

To increase coverage of local arts, HPM will add staff as well as draw on current employees, said Shumate, who was hired in 2011 to lead the new network. The arts team will deliver coverage to HPM’s website and stations. Some broadcast segments will air on two shows that launched this year: Arts InSight, a weekly TV show, and Houston Matters, a weekday local-news show on HPM’s news-formatted KUHF-FM. HPM is also adding local inserts to the new PBS NewsHour Weekend.

With the need for such coverage, “unfortunately, it makes it difficult to do classical music in the way that it was done before, when we need to have resources in other areas,” Shumate said. As an example of the arts coverage that HPM will produce, she cited a TV special, radio interviews and web features produced this year, all focusing on a Houston Museum of Fine Arts exhibit featuring light artist James Turrell. The TV show aired in markets beyond Houston.

HPM has also hired staff for Houston Matters and Arts InSight and will add management positions in editorial and digital, Shumate said. Overall, the network’s personnel expenses have stayed flat, she said.

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