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CBS News staffers fret that layoffs will hamper newsgathering

February 2, 2010 |  2:54 pm

A round of layoffs at CBS News resulted in substantial cuts this week in Washington, Los Angeles and London, leaving staffers morose about their thinning ranks, which they warned would limit the network’s newsgathering ability. At least 90 positions are being eliminated in the budget tightening, according to multiple sources, which began Friday when the Moscow bureau was shuttered and the Tel Aviv bureau was reduced to one producer.

Every newscast is feeling the cuts, which executives said were necessary to reduce newsgathering costs and make the news division more of a financial contributor to parent company CBS Corp. Four correspondents -- Sheila MacVicar in London, Sandra Hughes in Los Angeles, science and technology reporter Daniel Sieberg and Randall Pinkston in New York -- were asked to take positions with CBS Newspath, the network’s affiliate news service, in order to keep their jobs. The correspondents will still report for the network’s broadcasts, as well, according to a news executive who declined to be named when speaking about personnel.

The Washington, Los Angeles and London bureaus each lost close to a dozen positions, including part-time staff, sources said, and the San Francisco bureau was trimmed.

“Everyone is just walking around in shock,” said one staffer. “One news executive said, ‘We were covering the news with one arm tied behind our back. Now we’re going to do it with two arms tied behind our back.’ ”

Those leaving include veteran producer Larry Doyle, who served as Baghdad bureau chief and recently returned from covering the disaster in Haiti. He was among several very well-regarded producers let go, sources said.

“It’s a very sad place,” said one person familiar with the cuts. “We always were the leanest and still we always came back with the goods. But when you lose people like Larry Doyle, who is going to go in there and come back with the goods?”

Compounding the frustration inside the news division is the large salary commanded by CBS anchor Katie Couric, who joined the network in 2006 for a five-year deal worth around $15 million annually. During her tenure, “CBS Evening News” has remained in third place.  

The news executive who spoke on condition of anonymity defended Couric, noting that the broadcast has received multiple awards for its journalism, and said her salary was not forcing the cuts. “No matter how much money we’re paying our anchor, we would look at our newsgathering operations and say, ‘We can save money here,’” the executive said. “There is no connection between Katie’s salary and these cuts. The cuts are a result of what’s happening in the news business.”

Indeed, CBS is one of many media organizations that have been forced to retool because of a weak demand for advertising. NBC and ABC have also cut their news divisions in the last few years, and further belt-tightening measures at ABC are being considered, sources said.

-- Matea Gold

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