KOMU television lays off four employees, cuts anchor's hours

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Local NBC television affiliate KOMU has laid off four people in its production department and cut back the hours of morning anchor Lauren Whitney.

Whitney said she won't be doing her weekly school report segment any longer, though KOMU General Manager Marty Siddall said the cutbacks "won't have any impact that will be recognizable to viewers."

The MU-owned station, operated as a laboratory by the MU School of Journalism, blamed a drop in advertising demand and subsequent fall in revenue and workload for the cutbacks.

"KOMU is no different than any other business, and media in particular has been impacted by this economy," Siddall said. "The largest impact on us comes from the automotive category of our advertising, I think we're all pretty familiar with what's happening with the auto business."

Concerned for their privacy, Siddall declined to name the four production staff who were laid off. One of the layoffs was seasonal, and the employee will be rehired, Siddall said. The other three may be re-hired, or the positions otherwise refilled, should demand for advertising inventory and services increase, Siddall said.

"We look forward at our projections and react accordingly," Siddall said. "We're just being responsible."

Whitney will still anchor her two-and-a-half-hour show every morning from 4:30 to 7:00 a.m., and said she was grateful the station was still keeping her on. "They are allowing me to stay. That means the world to me that they think that much of me," Whitney said. "I hope everything will work out."

At the same time, Whitney, 25, is planning for her October wedding and hoping to start a family soon. When working full-time, she earned an annual salary of $26,000, according to the Missouri Secretary of State's official 2007-08 manual.

"I'm losing all my benefits, and I'm losing my insurance, sick leave, vacation hours, retirement," Whitney said. "I'm kind of devastated."

Whitney said she loves KOMU and what it does for the community and for MU students.

"I was born here, I went to school here, I graduated from all the schools here. I grew up watching KOMU. To get that job two years ago was such an amazing opportunity, I love it so much."

Whitney thanked everyone from the Columbia School District and other local schools that she said helped her over the years.

"I'm not going to do my school reports anymore, which is really the thing I'm saddest about," Whitney said. "I want to thank everyone so much. I'm not down, I'm not out, I'll still be the best morning anchor that I can be."

"I feel for my co-workers. I already miss them a ton," she said. "I can only imagine what they're going through right now."

Siddall said the layoffs were not tied to the station's elaborate new set redesign, inaugurated last week and paid for with advertising revenues.

The redesign was the result of years of planning, Siddall said, and plans had already been set in motion and some money already spent before the economy went south.

"If we walked away from the project, we would have lost some money on it," Siddall said. "KOMU is not unlike any other business. The fundamental business decisions involve improving your product in order to improve revenues. At the same time, you're looking to minimize expenses where you can."


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