“I would rather not have any negative perspectives of the program made public,” wrote one former page in response to an email query. “We would prefer to deal with this situation internally.”
But as graduates of the program struggle to land plum jobs in this grim labor market, some have directed their angst toward the manager of the page program.
The current page manager took over the program in the fall of 2007 and has since presided over the pages during a difficult time for NBC Universal. In the fall of 2008, NBCU chief Jeff Zucker sent out an email to managers warning that they would have to cut $500 million from their 2009 budget. In December, Mr. Zucker sat in front of a room full of bankers in New York and acknowledged that the network “had not had a good fall.”
Neither did the page program, which according to numerous sources became rife with discontent and disillusion. Thanks to the budget cuts, overtime dried up. Pages who had been told they could expect to earn roughly $30,000 for the year found themselves making considerably less.
At the same time, some of the shows and divisions at NBC that historically sponsored assignments (and, in turn, had to pay the page program for the labor) were saving money by cutting back. According to former pages, MSNBC, Today, the sports division, and corporate all scaled back their opportunities for pages. Some pages struggled to find anything to do beyond chores and tours.
The combination of factors took a toll on morale. Some pages bristled at a series of disciplinary crackdowns. According to one source, pages were regularly asked to keep an eye on their colleagues for possible infractions. “It’s a culture of fear,” said the former page.
Those who gave voice to the grievances felt they risked being blacklisted. “You’ve devoted a year of your life to doing it,” said another former page. “You’re so expendable that you really can’t complain about anything. If you voice feedback that’s remotely negative, you don’t get recommended for jobs.”
That said, according to several sources, in recent months a number of pages have banded together and voiced their complaints about the page manager to an internal NBC ombudsman.
When asked for comment by The Observer, NBC Universal provided a prepared statement. “With over 54% of our pages placed in jobs during 2008, the program also continues to be extremely successful in terms of building careers, and is a source of great pride for NBC Universal overall,” it read in part.
In the meantime, former pages hold out hope of a renaissance.
“On the whole it’s still a great, great program to be a part of,” said Jason Shebiro, a recent page, who now works at Sirius XM Radio. “You get your foot in the door. You get that check on your résumé that says you were an NBC page. You’re still part of the club.”