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Layoffs to hit CBS News next week

January 29, 2010 |  1:24 pm

CBS News employees are bracing for a significant round of layoffs that will hit the news division next week, according to multiple sources. The budget tightening is expected to affect every newscast, including “60 Minutes,” the network’s crown jewel, although that show will likely suffer minimal losses.

People familiar with discussions about the cuts inside the news division have heard that the total number who could lose their jobs could reach as high as 100, or 7% of the approximately 1,400-person staff. A news executive disputed that, saying the final figure would be considerably lower.

The cuts were prompted by a desire to mitigate news-gathering costs and make the news division more of a financial contributor to parent company CBS Corp., the news executive said.

"Every year we look at where the resources are spent, and if there’s a way to spend the resources more effectively, we’re going to do that," said the executive, who declined to be named discussing personnel matters. "This is part of the overall plan to make CBS News successful and vibrant and award-winning for a long, long time. It won’t have any effect on the ability of CBS News to continue with what we think is the best coverage in the news business right now."

But the news division’s remaining foreign bureaus have already felt the blow. According to sources, the Moscow bureau was effectively shuttered today after its three staffers were let go. And three part-time employees in Tel Aviv were laid off this week, leaving just one producer to staff that office. That means CBS' once-robust international reporting corps now has full bureaus with reporters in just London and Toyko, and small offices in half a dozen other foreign cities.

The layoffs are also expected to be keenly felt in CBS’ Washington bureau, where sources have heard that about a dozen out of the approximately 150-person staff could lose their jobs.

It appears unlikely that any on-air correspondents or anchors in the news division will be cut, but the layoffs will hit editorial employees, technicians and support staff. “It’s going to be painful all around,” said one person knowledgeable about the plans.

CBS is one of many media organizations that have been forced to retrench as the weak economy has driven down the demand for advertising. NBC and ABC have also cut their news divisions in recent years, and further belt-tightening measures at ABC are being considered, sources said.

While CBS Corp. President Leslie Moonves said last month that the advertising market is rebounding, prime-time entertainment shows and sports programming have been the first to see the uptick, which is affecting news programs more gradually. CBS News also faces the challenge of having its two daily broadcasts, “The Early Show” and “CBS Evening News With Katie Couric," lag in third place in the ratings.

CBS News is already a substantially leaner operation than its competitors, a result of deep cuts suffered in the late 1980s and early 1990s under owner Laurence Tisch. The company underwent more trims as recently as 2008, when about 1% of the news division staff was laid off.

Word of the newest round of layoffs began late last year when employees with contracts that were up for renewal were asked to sign new deals in which they would get no raises or severance packages if laid off. Bureau chiefs were asked to provide executives with a list of their staffs and what they did.

In recent days, gloom has settled over the newsroom as news of the cuts has spread. “Nobody is saying anything except for, ‘It’s bad,'” said a network source.

— Matea Gold