The Buzzsaw Comes out at Crosscut

-, a 16-year-old Seattle-based news website owned by KCTS-9’s Cascade Public Media, is digesting a sudden shift in priorities, and the newsroom union is protesting the changes. Five newsroom employees have been given layoff notices, two unfilled newsroom positions have been cut, and five new positions created to buttress the video and podcasting side of the operation.

(Disclosure: I was the founding editor/publisher of Crosscut in 2007, though I have had no connection at all with the nonprofit website since it joined KCTS in 2015). 

Sarah Hoffman, chair of the Crosscut Union, says “we were all blindsided by this decision,” and further, “the layoffs were done in violation of our contract’s seniority clause, with the company attempting to lay off some of the most senior people in the newsroom first.” Those given notice include an influential environmental reporter, Hannah Weinberger; an indigenous affairs reporter, Luna Reyna; an equity reporter, Maleeha Syed; a staff photographer; and an audience-engagement person. The new positions will be four video-podcast specialists and an on-air multi-media journalist.

Rob Dunlop, the CEO of Cascade Public Media, explains the shifts as bulking up the video side of Crosscut, while the written side will now focus more on politics, government, and investigations (now a 6-person investigations team). Dunlop adds that the laid-off journalists are all “good, solid people,” who are encouraged to apply for the new posts. He notes that there is no reduction in newsroom employees (aside from the two unfilled positions, meant to be specialists in education and arts).

Executive Editor M. David Lee, who made the staffing decisions and has a filmmaker and commercial broadcast-news background, explains that the decisions coincide with the new budget year, starting in July. The shifts and are part of an effort to reach younger and more diverse audiences by having more visual and podcast appeal. (Cascade Public Media’s annual budget was $29 million last year and is expected to grow to $30 million for the new budget year, according to Dunlop.) The Executive Editor post has been a revolving door; Lee arrived in October 2021, the sixth to hold the hot-seat post.

It is unusual to lay off so many people at once or to have hired the new reporters with a shift to video in the works. Also is the timing: Cascade Public Media is now in the midst of a capital campaign to construct a new home on First Hill, and Dunlop says $9 million has been raised in a $12.5 million goal. (The station has lost its lease at Seattle Center.)

As for plausible explanations for the sudden shift, once KCTS acquired Crosscut in 2015, it was always thought that the new news capacity would feed visual material to the local-program-starved public television station. Prior to the arrival of David Lee, the Crosscut editors had resisted such shifts. Dunlop gives as an example of this synergy the Knute Berger/Mossback series — written, podcasts, events, and TV segments exploring offbeat  Northwest history — and predicts further such combinations, starting with the arts reporter Brangien Davis.

Another explanation could be the need to grow audiences, particularly younger people. KCTS like much of public television, skews quite old (median age upper 60s) and Crosscut so far is only “slightly younger,” according to Dunlop. Like most media outlets, Crosscut seeks a younger and more diverse audience, and its editorial menu very much reflects this goal. As for audience size, a recent survey found Crosscut’s monthly audience of 250,000, which is well short of the Seattle Times (12 million) and comparable to (233,000).

A more murky explanation could be board pressure to position Crosscut more in line with PBS’s historic play-it-neutral stance. Lee’s early decision to abandon the opinion section at Crosscut, resulting in the departure of the activist-left writer, Katie Wilson, was consistent with this positioning (and also unpopular in the newsroom). It may also be that Crosscut, which can seem predictably “woke,” is seeking to adjust its editorial formula for solid journalistic reasons.

These decisions may be modified, as the Crosscut Union and management are currently locked in negotiations, largely over seniority issues. All the people laid off are women, and two are journalists of color. Prior to the layoffs, the Crosscut/KCTS-9 newsroom was more women than men (23 to 11 by my count). Stay tuned.

David Brewster
David Brewster
David Brewster, a founding member of Post Alley, has a long career in publishing, having founded Seattle Weekly, Sasquatch Books, and His civic ventures have been Town Hall Seattle and FolioSeattle.


  1. David
    Thanks for this overview of the “proposed” changes at Crosscut. Hopefully the union negotiations go well In reinstating the senior journalists and help Crosscut recenter to its progressive core again. Adding greater video capacity to its journo work seems like a potential benefit. Seems like management has missed an opportunity to simply support their great senior journalists to expand their repertoire instead of laying them off and inviting them to “apply”. A 1950s method of management not smart, not acceptable, not credible. I rely on Crosscut environmental, social and political reporting for the keen insights and exceptional tracking down of what, who, how and why. Grow it do not abandon it.

  2. I long ago stopped reading CrossCut when they stopped allowing comments and when so many articles are hard-left advocacy, with little in the center, not to mention race-obsessed. Some call this progressive. I call it unbalanced and advocacy. I got the strong sense that they would not broach dissent among readers when some disagreed with an article’s premise and attempted to comment on it. Clearly it does not take a lot of staff effort to monitor the occasional improper comment and what these folks do with their time is an open question.

    I am bemused at the entitlement expressed by staff based upon their color or gender, and a management who would appear to be hobbled by union constraints on strategy and how the limited budget is spent. They actually have a staff photographer presumably working full time! What for? I wonder what the actual readership is of Crosscut and the budget allocated to it vs. the TV station. I suspect that the efforts to arrange the deck chairs if you will with these changes, is not going to cut it in the long-run.

    A 30 million budget places it up there with the likes of the Symphony, Seattle Rep and other vibrant entities. Who are these donors and who reads Crosscut and how many of them pony up a check to support it? Who is watching KCTS and why are they even a combined thing with Crosscut. If Crosscut were to close down, would anyone notice and would the budget improve by losing the positions without losing donors who likely respond mainly to the TV pitches.

    The comparison with CapitolHillSeattle blog is interesting. Similar readership while the blog appears to operate on a shoestring budget. And it allows comments, though they have to spend days getting approved and approval seems at times arbitrary.

    Actually, Post Alley is not a bad comparison as well. What is the readership of Post Alley, and what is the budget if any? I find the quality of writing and thoughfulness admirable and by and large a major cut above the CrossCut, with all the paid staff and predictable left leaning content.

    I think a good article or inquiry might be on how some non-profits have lost their way and lost donors and substantial funding as a result of mission creep into the land of the woke. ACT had a full-on Board resignation a year or two back in apparent solidarity with a need to change American theater. Talk about virtue signaling! Might it not have been wiser to do outreach to add diverse others to the Board as terms expire or even add positions than just resign? How much confidence did such an act inspire among the major donors?

    Or Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s sad shift away from excellence and towards equity – recently begging for money – a million dollars – to save themselves, and the resignation of their failed executive director. Or the coup attempted by so called writers of color at Hugo House, who did an artful takedown of a very competent but older white female executive director based upon innuendo of claims of harm done by her, with zero evidence actually presented. The only harm that took place at Hugo House was to the humiliated executive director and the students and teachers who were led astray and distracted by the malevolent group of malcontents. And the many organizations that claim budgetary constraints yet see fit to add an FTE or more to create DEI positions, rather than existing staff take on such goals. IF they can afford a DEI position, do they really need our money?

    And the grating noise of repeated loyalty oaths in the form of the ubiquitous and performative land acknowledgments in every program and sadly from the
    stage of many. Looking at you Symphony! What does this accomplish beyond signaling virtue?

    In the social service realm we have massive failures of understanding of the impact of drugs on the streets of our city and the resulting vagrancy population. The mantra that it is a housing issue defies credulity. Some of us have long memories of the 10-year plans to cure homelessness, that not only failed but failed grandly, likely due to the plans and actions, enabling and welcoming criminals and addicts to our streets with free stuff, lawlessness and enablement, not in spite of them.

    A week does not go by where we hear of another shooting of black people by black people, with mainly silence from the communities impacted, while white folks decry police misdeeds and seek to defund, from the comfort of their safe neighborhoods and homes. This is tragic in the impact of those truly harmed but largely silence on the disproportionate impact of violence on black men.

    We who write checks to support non-profits owe it to ourselves and these entities to expect and demand accountability and stewardship of resources. Since so many of these organizations have gone rogue in mission, focus and spending – it creates opportunities for others who are responsibly led, governed and have demonstrable impact, to win over the hearts and dollars of those who care about our community and are wanting to see real change and improvement.

    I see I have rambled but I am triggered by CrossCut’s content and the flavor of malcontent by staff that is described, and see it in the context of larger systemic problems in our community assumptions and leadership. Fortunately, such issues are often self-correcting and I think as reality sets in, it is happening.

    • ” Or the coup attempted by so called writers of color at Hugo House, who did an artful takedown of a very competent but older white female executive director … with zero evidence actually presented. ” It does not matter what she actually might have done or not done; the fact that she is an older “Karen” was enough to condemn her. By the way, what’s the word for a male Karen?

  3. David, thanks for a thoughtful piece. I know hardly anyone who reads Crosscut as it had become very predictable, and yes, overly “woke,” as seems broadly the case in Seattle (and I’m quite far to the Left). It’s not at all unusual for Dunlop to lay off several people–he basically demolished KCTS’ local production team in 2014, with 11 layoffs in one day, many of long-time professionals. I was an independent free-lancer at the station then, so unaffected, but could feel that the station no longer cared about broadcasting. It’s pitiful 2-minute Crosscut stories before and after the NewHour are something of a joke, with virtually no video at all–only still photos as visual wallpaper for superficial stories. These days, except for the Times and Post Alley, only KUOW is doing good reporting and they have improved immensely in their local news coverage–kudos! Seattle hardly needs a more “progressive core.” What we need is some good critical analysis of the Left’s mistakes in this town that have played into the hands of the Right. With Sandeep Kaushik and some others, we get that in other ways, but it might be a good goal for Crosscut. We on the Left blew it big time with Defund the Police and our demonization of public safety. In any case, Channel 9 is licensed as a TV station. It might focus a bit more on good local TV production. Perhaps I’m too cranky but I see a city that has deteriorated enormously and we progressives refusing to admit it.

  4. Thoughtful commentary all…

    I’ve enjoyed Knute Berger’s work over the years is he still with CC? I was doing a little digging around on Dr Sauvage ..the Hope Heart Institute at Providence Hospital and who do I find? Knute was there too…

    Hoping that out new city council is “woke” to the fact that we massively screwed up the city and that we return to the nuts and bolts of operating a safe clean orderly city where potholes are fixed..encampments are cleaned up and swept away – grafitti removed.

  5. As usual, I have to point out that the use of ideas like “Left” in analysis of policy leads to brain damage. “Leftism” isn’t the problem, the problem is people who think it’s meaningful. But I digress.

    For me, Crosscut lost it when they became an organ of the TV station.

  6. Like so many others, I quit subscribing to the Crosscut daily newsletter when it took a hard Left turn. Katie Wilson was ripe for booting, offering little more than Kshama Sawant talking points. Many are growing tired of being dictated a pattern of thought, and have sought out more balanced journalism. I am greatly encouraged to learn here that Crosscut will strengthen its reporting of politics, government, and investigations. There is a much stronger need in this area, especially since Kevin Schofield stopped publishing his exemplary, Pulitzer-quality “Seattle City Council Insight” blog.

    There is little surprise that a CEO from the video world would improve that side of Crosscut’s collaboration with KCTS, especially when the audience is more aimed at younger demographics. Those are, after all, the same demographics that have left mainstream journalism to instead seek their news from TikTok videos.

  7. It’s also interesting to look at Crosscut in the larger very troubled media landscape. While we have been used to watching print papers and magazines disappear over several decades, the websites that helped undermine those legacy outlets also now are suffering. Look at Buzzfeed, Vice and others. We need good solid journalism more than ever and it’s getting harder and harder to find.


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