LAist staffers offered buyouts ahead of possible layoffs at public radio station

A cubicle desk in an office, adorned with stickers, magnets, red gloves and an avocado toy.
Stickers are on display inside the facilities department at Southern California Public Radio headquarters in Pasadena, home of LAist. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Journalists at LAist have been offered buyouts ahead of a potential round of layoffs at the local public radio station that broadcasts under the call sign KPCC-FM (89.3).

Kristen Muller, chief content officer at LAist, informed donors by email on Thursday that the company is pursuing a "voluntary buyout program for current employees" in an effort to prevent cuts. All full- and part-time staffers who work at least 24 hours per week are eligible for buyouts.

LAist reporter Caitlin Hernández posted an excerpt from the memo online, along with a link for listeners who wish to donate to the nonprofit parent network Southern California Public Radio.

Read more: Long Beach Post staffers laid off after moving to unionize and going on strike

"Our hope is that these buyouts will be enough to shrink the gap and avoid layoffs, but that remains unclear," Muller wrote. "In a commitment to transparency, we will continue to share updates with you as the situation evolves."

In a statement provided Thursday to The Times, Muller said LAist is "facing a significant budget shortfall" ranging from $4 million to $5 million over the next two years. She cited a decline in advertising, dried-up investment reserves, digital monetization issues "and overall cost increases that have not kept pace with revenue."

"We have reduced all non-salary expenses as much as possible," the statement read.

"This does not mean we are retreating from our cross-platform ambitions, or our desire to be a daily digital habit for Southern Californians seeking trustworthy news and information," it continued. "In fact, our work has never been more vital, and we are committed to its growth.”

Read more: L.A. Times to lay off at least 115 people in the newsroom

LAist is not the only SoCal media organization that has been struggling.

In March, the Long Beach Post laid off nine staffers after newsroom employees moved to unionize and went on strike to protest the impending cuts. Former and striking Long Beach Post journalists have since formed their own media outlet, the Long Beach Watchdog.

According to the Watchdog, the National Labor Relations Board is investigating allegations that the Long Beach Post and the Long Beach Business Journal retaliated against workers for moving to unionize under the Media Guild of the West.

Melissa Evans, chief executive of the Long Beach Journalism Initiative (which owns the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal), said in a statement to The Times that the nonprofit's "decision about who to lay off had nothing to do with the unionization effort."

Evans said that she informed staff members of the layoffs on Feb. 28 and employees notified the board that they signed their union cards on March 13.

The bargaining unit publicly announced its unionization campaign on March 15 and went on strike to protest the cuts on March 21. The layoffs occurred on March 22.

"We have ample evidence to show that the layoffs that occurred on March 22 stemmed from an immediate need to right-size our organization, and nothing more," Evans said.

"The Long Beach Journalism Initiative is a five-month-old nonprofit that began with no seed money and no endowment, and we simply could not carry the amount of personnel that we retained from our previous chapter as a for-profit under Pacific Community Media," she added.

The Los Angeles Times also has undergone layoffs in recent months. The Times cut more than 100 staffers — roughly 20% of the newsroom — in March, citing heavy financial losses.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.