More Off-the-Air Static at KUT

Overtime pay cut angers station’s already demoralized staff

Photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Reporters at KUT-FM took to social media this week to announce they would no longer receive overtime pay, translating into a significant cut to their already low salaries and adding to the station's current turmoil. "This has a direct impact on the public service we're able to provide to our audience," tweeted KUT News Managing Editor Matt Largey, adding, "Many KUT reporters make drastically less than their counterparts elsewhere. As a manager, I cannot defend this policy."

The circumstances of this decision remain somewhat murky and, according to the accounts of multiple staffers in addition to Largey, were sprung on KUT's newsroom without warning. Instead of cash pay for overtime, reporters – like most of their fellow non-exempt employees at the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin, and indeed throughout state government – will bank their overtime as paid leave ("comp time"), up to 240 hours. If they leave, transfer to another UT department, take an exempt position, or exceed that 240-hour cap, they can cash out their comp-time balance. (All jobs are "exempt" or "non-exempt" from various provisions, including overtime, of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.)

If there was ever a good time to spring on your demoralized employees that they’re getting a pay cut, this certainly wasn’t it.

Even though this is the default state and UT policy, "departments have the discretion to pay out earned overtime based on their business needs," according to a statement from UT's Moody College of Communica­tion. That's what KUT and its sister station KUTX have been doing, but "during senior management meetings in August and September, KUT/KUTX introduced pending ... department-level changes in their [time] banking and federal overtime practices." On Monday, "a draft overtime compensation policy was discussed with KUT/KUTX senior managers, noting that additional changes and timing for implementation are still under consideration." Judging from the KUT staff's reaction, these discussions did not go over well.

In recent weeks, KUT's internal affairs have become public and fraught, as the station and its newsroom grapple with issues of diversity and sensitivity, career opportunities and workplace culture, and the behavior of the news team's former director Emily Donahue (now working in a fundraising role) and her husband, Texas Standard host David Brown. A negative feature in the public-media trade magazine Current, and KUT's own subsequent coverage via freelance reporter Eva Ruth Moravec, was followed by the abrupt resignation of the station's interim general manager Patti Smith; her tenure ends this week. Smith was at the helm during the period when overtime policy changes were under discussion, according to the Moody statement.

Meanwhile, there's an ongoing UT human resources investigation of Brown, after the circulation of an unaired Texas Standard tape in which the host appears to make fun of Spanish speakers; in a widely distributed email apology, Brown claims he was rather making fun of himself. But on top of the complaints of employees of color presented in Current, this episode has only made the clouds over KUT darker. Brown was absent from Texas Standard for two days last week, once Moravec's coverage made the existence of the tape public.

So, if there was ever a good time to spring on your demoralized employees that they're getting a pay cut, this certainly wasn't it. "[J]ournalism happens all the time, on the schedule of other people. [S]o it was pretty rad that @KUT ... compensated us for that," education reporter Claire McInerny tweeted. "We will now be working for free to cover things that happen. ... I chose public radio because it's a part of the journalism world where in depth reporting is valued ... but now [KUT] is telling us they don't value that."

While McInerny and other KUT reporters suggested this decision was made by university topsiders, with their own management left in the dark, the Moody statement implies it was made farther down the chain of command. Given that the aggrieved parties are reporters, and that KUT has been quite transparent with its audience (on air and online) about its woes and discontents, this discrepancy will probably be clarified before long.

The Moody statement concedes that reporting often requires overtime work, and says the station's new policy "will reflect there are some circumstances where overtime will be paid as salary. ... Funding for KUT/KUTX operations is self-generated and any savings realized from managing overtime practices remain within the station budget." The college and station leadership "will continue to work closely with staff to ensure their important work does not get interrupted or compromised."

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

KUT’s News Director Departs
KUT’s News Director Departs
Embattled newsroom leader Emily Donahue out after 17 years

Mary Tuma, Dec. 21, 2018

More by Mike Clark-Madison
Roxy Music Airs Out Its Deep Cuts At Ragged-Edged Austin Show
Roxy Music Airs Out Its Deep Cuts At Ragged-Edged Austin Show
Even with weakened chops, the HoFers enjoy each other's company

Sept. 22, 2022

Federal District Court Rules Employers Can Refuse to Purchase Health Insurance That Covers PrEP
Federal District Court Rules Employers Can Refuse to Purchase Health Insurance That Covers PrEP
When lifesaving medicines are against someone’s religion

Sept. 23, 2022


KUT-FM, KUT, Texas Standard, overtime pay, Matt Largey, University of Texas at Austin, Moody College of Communication, Emily Donahue, David Brown, Patti Smith, Eva Ruth Moravec, Claire McInerny, Fair Labor Standards Act

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle