CBS News was hit hard by a round of corporate cost-cutting that saw "a single-digit percentage" of the network's news staffers laid off, according to an estimate given by network president Susan Zirinsky during a Wednesday afternoon all-hands conference.
Based on the size of the news network — which totals more than 500 staffers — employees did the back-of-the-envelope math and estimated that about 50 staffers were cut, though the network has not said specifically how many were affected.
"Everyone is shocked," a CBS News staffer tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Zirinsky said in a memo earlier Wednesday that management "had to make some extremely difficult decisions" due to "the economic fallout from the pandemic coming on top of the cost savings initiatives already underway from the merger of CBS and Viacom."
The exec was apologetic and sympathetic during the network's post-cuts meeting, according to multiple staffers on the call, explaining the rationale for the cuts and engaging with the human cost of the layoffs.
"There isn’t a single person leaving who did a bad job," she said. "It’s economics. It is absolutely the financials that has forced us to make these decisions. ... I’m really sorry. There is not a person who won’t be missed.”
CBS News was the first national television news network to have confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus among its staff, telling employees to work from home on March 11 after two employees tested positive.
The network has continued to aggressively cover the spread of the pandemic in the U.S. even as the tally of affected staffers rose, coverage that Zirinsky said she is proud of.
"It is hard to come to an organization and make cuts when you have stepped up to the plate and delivered," she said on the staff call. The exec said that management "tried to spread the cuts out across every broadcast so the journalism would not be impacted."
On March 18, Zirinsky announced that the network's flagship morning show would be broadcast from the Ed Sullivan Theater, home of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, after the network's headquarters was emptied out.
She addressed that work-around on Wednesday's call, saying: "If you would have told me I’d be in the Ed Sullivan control room for 11 fucking weeks, I would have said, 'Give me some of whatever you’re smoking.'"
The cost-cutting at the news division arrives as part of a broad restructuring after the December closing of the merger between Viacom and CBS. In New York, some 450 staffers have been impacted by cuts companywide at ViacomCBS since January, per a filing with the state's Department of Labor.