CBS stations ax news staff


CBS Corp. is doing some belt-tightening at its TV news and TV stations businesses.

Anchors and reporters are among the employees who have been laid off at such CBS stations as WCBS New York, KCBS Los Angeles, WBZ Boston, KYW Philadelphia, KPIX San Francisco, WBBM Chicago and KVOR Sacramento.

Among the dozen or so let go at KCBS/KCAL were anchors Harold Greene and Ann Martin, reporters Jamie Garza, Jennifer Davis, Greg Phillips and Jennifer Sabih and executive producers Matt Kallinger and Kerry Brace. There were also cuts in sales, traffic and possibly among news writers and stage managers.

Martin and Greene, whose contracts were coming up for renewal, are co-anchors on KCAL's 4 p.m. newscast and KCBS' 6 p.m. newscast. They did not appear on Monday's or Tuesday's telecasts, but Greene was planning to work today. Martin's plans were uncertain.

The two came from KABC and have worked together for years; their salaries are said to be in the millions of dollars. A station group spokesperson confirmed that the duo would be announcing their "retirement" as of June 1. Bios of most of the axed newspeople were removed from the KCBS Web site by 5 p.m. Tuesday. It's unclear who will replace Greene and Martin.

In April, KCBS/KCAL moved into a new state-of-the-art three-story building at CBS Radford in Studio City, where the top floor has been undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation to house West Coast offices for CBS Corp. chief Leslie Moonves and top TV executives.

In New York, WCBS also lost about a dozen positions, including on-air reporters Andrew Kirtzman and Scott Weinberger.

Weinberger joined the station in October 2005 and served as its chief investigative reporter. Kirtzman joined the station's political news team in late 2002 and most recently was a general assignment reporter.

WBBM's lead female anchor, Diane Burns, also is out after the Chicago station declined to renew her contract. WBZ Boston lost about 20 jobs.

In San Francisco, 14 KPIX newsroom folks were laid off, including Bay Area on-air icons Bill Schechner and Manny Ramos, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

In Denver, the nine cuts include a pink slip for Shawn Montano, who recently won an award as the National Press Photographers Assn.'s photojournalism video editor of the year.

CBS owns 29 TV stations, including 16 CBS and nine CW affiliates, most of them in bigger markets.

Wall Street observers cited a sluggish economy and market as likely driving factors behind the CBS job reductions. They also mentioned the continued digital evolution of the media business and the recent WGA strike as key reasons for TV executives to rethink established models.

"I can only imagine that they are trying to salvage operating income before depreciation and amortization while revenue remains challenged in this recession," Miller Tabak + Co. analyst David Joyce said about CBS Corp., echoing peers who have argued that the company will need to cut costs to help it hit key earnings targets.

Added Barrington Research analyst James Goss: "My sense is that the layoffs extended to some high-priced and highly visible local talent with an eye toward applying some of the same return on investment-focused expense disciplines that started at the network level."

He also argued that the writers strike probably got CBS and other industry executives rethinking their business. "This changed landscape also implies that certain things that worked in the past from an economic standpoint no longer make as much sense in this new reality," he said.

Asked about the often-mentioned political advertising upside that experts have been predicting for TV groups this year, Joyce said: "Generally this year, political upside is being matched by recession downside, mostly at the local level."

He also highlighted that political revenue has been state-specific so far because of the nature of the primary process. "Political ads will come more broadly later in the year, then get narrowed down by state when electoral vote fights become crucial," Joyce added.

Paul J. Gough in Washington contributed to this report.