Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Three-Tone Bell Tolls For Thirteen

In early February, when Neal Shapiro officially took over as the president of the Educational Broadcasting Corporation, the former president of NBC News vowed to bring a stepped-up commercial metabolism to New York’s public broadcasting stations, WNET-13 and WLIW-21.

To judge by his first few weeks on the job, Mr. Shapiro has also brought along something else: big-network-style layoffs.

On Feb. 13, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, close to 10 employees of Channel 13’s communications department were summoned to a meeting and told that they were being let go. There would be no two weeks’ notice. No traditional public-television hand-holding. Afterward, according to the source, the staffers cleaned out their desks and departed.

Later that day, the vice president for Institutional Advancement, Barbara Bantivoglio, sent out a memo to Channel 13 staffers explaining in classic corporate prose that the cuts were the result of an “organizational audit,” which had previously determined “that the structure of the department required adjustment.”

While the rest of the public television universe is busy debating—thank you, Charles McGrath!—the future of the industry, staff members at Channel 13 do not have the luxury of being very philosophical about it in the short term.

According to sources, the aforementioned audit was not limited to the communications team.

Which means more “adjustments,” in more departments, are still to come.

A spokesperson for Channel 13 did not respond to a request seeking comment.

“There’s an assumption that this is just the beginning,” said one staff member. “Everyone is in a state of shock. People are angry. People are hurt.”

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