CBS stations start to jettison longtime staffers as audiences dissolve

There are many newspaper editors, reporters and publishers either feeling schadenfreude or shaking their heads in sad sympathy at this news…

While local news stations
remained profitable, ratings for evening and late newscasts dropped in
2007 for the second year in a row, according to the 2008 State of the
News Media report. Morning news shows held firm.

Still, half of the nation’s news directors reported increasing their
budgets last year, according to the study. Why? Because newsrooms are
the economic engine of a local TV station, contributing roughly 42
percent of station’s revenue, according to a national survey of news

“But they’re fighting a continued fragmentation of the market,”
Papper said. “Just as newspapers have found out, there are a lot more
places to go to get news.”

Here in LA, two of the familiar faces are getting purged, along with reporters that I used to know, back when we were all stuck covering the O.J. Simpson circus. Ann Martin and Jennifer Sabih used to hang out in the parking lot behind the Hall of Justice, passing the endless hours while Judge Ito had shut off the video feed, trying in vain to come up with some other topic of conversation than that damn trial. Meanwhile, the perpetually puzzled foreign news reporters would be chainsmoking and sneaking sips of whatever christawful rotgut they had hidden in the increasingly battered plastic Carl’s Jr. cup.

Apparently, “The Tiffany Network” is following the wrongheaded lead of way too many newspapers, slashing the already skeleton news staff to preserve their 20% profit margins. I’m not a fan of local TV news broadcasts (the “bleed = lead” strategy is one of the philosophies that has really contributed to the U.S.’s downward spiral these last 20 years), but an even smaller staff means an even weaker product, fewer viewers, and more cuts inevitably to come.

It’s been a rough few days at many of the Eye’s local news affils. Last
week stations in Miami, Denver, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Sacramento,
Pittsburgh, Dallas and Philadelphia all sustained layoffs, with about
15 jobs shed in each market. Boston was the worst hit, with about 20
cuts. There could be more to come, as several employees are
contemplating buyout packages.

I’ve been telling my students/trainees these last few months that TV has been looking down its nose at newspapers for quite a while now, secure in their position as the most desireable destination for the advertising dollar. No longer. When the internet wave really starts to hit TV news, it is going to be even uglier than it was in newspapers, since, as the Variety story points out, some of these TV talking heads pull in massive salaries that can translate into some serious bottom-line savings.


CBS News has been underperforming since not long after Katie Couric was hired 18 months ago at a salary of $15 million a year.

she has been trailing both NBC and ABC evening
newcasts in the ratings by a wide margin. CBS Corp.’s share price has
been down 19 percent so far this year.