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While its budget remains stagnant, KPBS is focusing more on its news operation and spending less on top-level administration. The public broadcaster clearly sees an opportunity to boost its profile at a time when local media is under severe financial stress.

“Our focus is on building on our success as a radio news organization and seeing that grow and expand into online and television,” said Deanna Mackey, the station manager.

Reflecting its priorities, the station has slightly increased its spending on its internet and related operations to more than $1 million. And next month, KPBS will begin searching for a director to oversee all of its news operations, Mackey said.

The station hasn’t had such a position in the past. In fact, no high-level manager has overseen its news operations since late 2007, when the news director of KPBS-FM left.

KPBS’s news gathering operation is centered around its radio station, which touts itself as being “Where News Matters.” Its main competition, news/talk station KOGO, has cut back on its newsroom operations in recent years. 

KPBS-FM has largely avoided major cutbacks. But like other public radio stations, KPBS-FM is facing a challenging future as fans of National Public Radio find new ways to listen to their favorite shows that don’t involve radios and local affiliates.

In recent years, KPBS-FM has tried to make its news operation more prominent; among other things, its anchors now read national headlines during the daily NPR “Morning Edition” show.

Earlier this year, the station also considered expanding the daily local public affairs show “These Days” to three hours. But money issues got in the way.

At the time, program director John Decker told me that the station must now provide transcripts of its local programming in order to comply with the law requiring that state-run websites be accessible to the disabled. (KPBS-FM is run by San Diego State University.)

KPBS-FM couldn’t afford the extra expense for a new hour of programming, Decker said.

On the television side, KPBS-TV’s local news programming is limited to a weekly half-hour show that began airing two months ago. The public-affairs show, “San Diego Week,” should be daily by 2010 or 2011, Mackey said.

KPBS-TV cancelled its previous daily “Full Focus” public-affairs show in 2008, prompting an outcry from viewers. But the station said the show’s ratings were poor.

As KPBS tries to focus more on news, fundraising has dipped. KPBS plans to spend $18.4 million in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, compared to $18.1 million in 2008-2009 and $20.8 million in 2007-2008.

However, top administration costs have fallen by 37 percent to $600,000 in the 2009-2010 budget. The station has one less manager in the top tier because the position held by Tom Karlo, who took over as general manager in January, wasn’t filled, said spokeswoman Nancy Worlie.

Spending on “new media” operations — including the internet — is rising 15 percent to $1.05 million; just two years ago, the station spent $539,000.

In another development, KPBS is reshuffling its top brass.

Keith York is stepping down as director of television programming after 12 years in the position. He will oversee corporate fundraising.

Decker, the current director of radio programming, will oversee both TV and radio.

— RANDY DOTINGA

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