PBS's 'NewsHour' Grappling With Funding Woes

Even as a slowing economy and a falloff in corporate underwriting has put the squeeze on The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, foundation grants are helping to fill the gap, the New York Times reports.

What Lehrer has called the toughest funding environment in the program's twenty-five-year history was precipitated last summer when Archer Daniels Midland ended its fourteen-year sponsorship of the program. The company had provided nearly $4 million — and some years as much as $7 million — of the program's annual budget of $27 million. Indeed, while the program still boasts two corporate sponsors — Chevron and the Pacific Life Insurance Company — and receives support from PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, it is looking at a budget shortfall of several million dollars.

According to some observers, the situation at the NewsHour may be indicative of a larger problem for PBS programs. Not only are corporations responding to a slowing economy by cutting back on all forms of advertising, but the public television model of soliciting long-term commitments increasingly is out of step with the changing needs of corporations. "Now, it's more a marketing-driven conversation about audiences and delivery and engagement," said Rob Flynn, vice president of communications and marketing for the NewsHour.

At the same time, foundation support for the program has more than tripled, from $2 million five years ago to $7 million today, including a recent $1.5 million grant from the New York City-based Starr Foundation. In an odd twist, grants from the Gruber Family and Ford foundations, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund have enabled the program to bolster its international reporting even as it struggles to balance its overall budget.

Undeterred, NewsHour staff are working to find new ways to do just that. "We've always played it close to the chest financially," said Lehrer. "That's part of who we are, part of being in public broadcasting."

Elizabeth Jensen. "Lehrer Says 'News Hour' Money Woes Are Worst Ever." New York Times 05/19/2008.