Outpouring of support after Pacifica lays off news anchor and threatens to “restructure” newscast

Back from reporting on Wisconsin’s historic labor rally this weekend, KPFA news producer John Hamilton arrived in Berkeley to a layoff notice this week from the station’s interim program director Carrie Core. Hamilton, who has worked at KPFA for three years, was told his last work day would be March 30.

When asked who made the layoff decision, Core admitted that it was Pacifica’s executive director Arlene Engelhardt. Core did not explain how much the station would save by laying off Hamilton, nor how KPFA would make up the shortfall that would come from dismissing one of the station’s most effective fundraisers. Hamilton is employed part-time and makes only about $25,000 a year, according to KPFAWorker.org. PRESS COVERAGE: KPFA News audio | San Francisco Examiner

Listeners responded with an outpouring of financial support during the Pacifica Evening News, which Hamilton anchors. “We’re always told by KPFA programmers to ‘vote with our dollars,’ so that’s what I’m doing,” said one long-time news listener. “I made my entire $250 annual pledge during the Evening News to send a message to Pacifica that they should not layoff John Hamilton or destroy our news department.”

In addition to pledging, you can also help by writing to management via KPFA’s listener comment page. Or, if you want your email address to remain confidential, use SaveKPFA’s write to Pacifica page and we’ll forward your comments to management with your name but without your email address.

More than $7,000 was raised by Hamilton during the 1-hour Evening News on Tuesday — the highest amount that had been raised during by the news during this fund drive. That record was quickly topped on Wednesday with over $12,000 of pledges made during the news.

“Let’s keep it up for the next two days. John Hamilton is an amazingly talented journalist and fundraiser — he was able to raise over a quarter of his yearly pay in just an hour on the air,” said Margy Wilkinson, chair of KPFA’s local board. “It is ironic, to say the least, that just as we start to rebuild KPFA, management starts demolishing elsewhere,” she added.

Union activists at KPFA allege that Hamilton’s layoff is retaliatory. Hamilton has been a prominent union activist at KPFA and a public critic of Pacifica management. Last fall he earned the ire of Pacifica’s executive director after filming her storming off after listeners asked what her salary was, as well as producing a widely-shared video of a KPFA rally. He was also listed along with Brian Edwards-Tiekert and Aimee Allison in a letter targetting staff for layoff by a group of Pacifica board members last fall. Hamilton says he’s filing a grievance over the layoff.

Hamilton’s layoff comes less than a week after former KPFA Morning Show co-host Brian Edwards-Tiekert was reinstated by Pacifica with back pay, but was given a job description as a reporter rather than a morning host. | EAST BAY EXPRESS ARTICLE

Hands off the news, restore other locally-controlled programming

Newly-released balance sheets show that KPFA outperformed its budget by $290,000 by the end of 2010, casting doubt on management’s claims that layoffs are necessary. Listeners have also pledged an additional $63,000 to restore the KPFA Morning Show, an offer that management has so far refused.

When asked about how the news department would function with Hamilton laid off, management said it planned to “restructure” the newscast. More KPFA listeners tune into the Evening News than any other evening program, and it was the station’s biggest fundraiser during the last marathon. After Pacifica took the popular Morning Show off the air and laid off its co-hosts, fundraising in the 8am hour went into a tailspin.

“The Evening News is the heart of KPFA,” said local board member Mal Burnstein. “We don’t want to see Pacifica do to it what they did to the Morning Show. The station has suffered a steep drop in quality and credibility — not to mention financial health — as a result of these ill-advised disruptions.”