More Layoffs and Cuts at Georgia Public Broadcasting

Georgia Public Broadcasting made more cuts to staff and original programming this past week.

Two stories on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Radio and TV blog reported the news.

First of the end of production of the TV program A Seat at the Table.

Then of newsroom layoffs and cuts to the radio program On Second Thought.

These follow the elimination of GPB’s Augusta presence in Nov., as first reported by the Augusta Chronicle.

The Chronicle followed up with a second story in late December about GPB’s FY2019 deficit and state budget cuts.

In December, I posted my own look at the state’s FY2019 audit.

Since then, auditors released a separate Special Examination of GPB’s Educational Resources. GPB’s broadcasting units weren’t a part of this new audit but it contains some pertinent information.

Significantly, it came at the request of the state Senate Appropriations Committee and gives an overview of GPB’s funding and management structure in fairly direct language.

The educational resources information may figure into discussions of mandated state budget cuts, but the losses reported on GPB’s FY2019 Audit were in TV and radio. (GPB on WRAS is accounted for through Columbus station WJSP.)

The state has also updated its Open Georgia database with salary and expense information for state agencies.

CEO Teya Ryan earns $243,000. Her salary is only slightly up from FY2018 and was at $230,000 the two previous years.

Senior Executive Bert Huffman is the second highest paid at $182,000.

In an Open Records Request first made by Album 88 Students and Alumni, both Huffman and Ryan were found to be using non-work email accounts in discussions with Georgia State University officials regarding GPB’s takeover of WRAS.

The highest paid on-air personality is Bill Nigut at $130,000. Closely allied with Ryan, Nigut celebrated his own return to radio on WRAS with a tone-deaf blog entry that now reads like a caricature of affluent, entitled baby boomers stealing the future from Millennials.

Another sign of inequity is GPB’s substantial increase in temporary payroll beginning in 2017.

Its largest expenses include dues to PBS and NPR and an ongoing advertising campaign with Outfront Media which grew to $475,000 in 2019.

Despite all the billboards, some now outdated, GPB on WRAS still trails WABE in ratings.

The WRAS signal has attracted some sustaining membership donations for GPB, but not enough to overcome expenses.

Shifts from broadcast to streaming services have also begun to affect public television, where GPB dominates Public Broadcasting Atlanta.

But more than just financial, are losses to the credibility of Georgia’s democratic institutions, of which GPB is a core member.

The WRAS takeover was publicly announced in May of 2014, during finals week, but planning coincided with GPB’s agreeing to hire Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, suggesting GSU students were the victims of the petty machinations of Georgia’s Lawmakers.

(In 2015, GSU President Mark Becker received a large raise making him one of the highest paid public university presidents in the country.)

At any point over the last five years, GPB’s oversight Commission, GSU’s oversight Board of Regents, members of the state legislature (of either party) who appear on GPB regularly, and GPB’s local and national media partners could have admitted GPB’s shady takeover of WRAS was a mistake.

None of them did.

Will anyone now?

Atlanta writer and comedian. Occasional citizen journalist. Diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 40. No relation to Steve.

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