What CBS News President Van Gordon Sauter called "the date that distresses us all" arrived Thursday for 70 employees of the division. They were laid off as part of a CBS Broadcast Group belt-tightening in which 500 persons are losing their jobs.
The cuts were expected. On July 2, the Broadcast Group, citing a listless economy that has slowed advertising revenue, announced plans to eliminate a total of 700 positions--200 by attrition or not filling job vacancies--as part of its overall cost-cutting program.
However, no termination notices actually went out until this week. In addition to the 70 CBS News employees who got pink-slipped Thursday, a spokeswoman said that another 20 jobs would be eliminated through attrition.
CBS News officials declined to say which individuals, programs or departments were affected by the cuts. But CBS sources have said that most of those losing their jobs work in off-camera jobs. The hardest-hit department was CBS' operations and engineering division, which is losing about 260 positions.
The best-known of the news staffers involved in the cutbacks, sources said, was George Herman, 66, with CBS since 1944 and moderator of "Face the Nation" from 1969 to 1983. But he will continue working until January, when his current contract expires.
The layoffs are the most extensive at CBS in 15 years. They come 10 months after nearly 240 employees were let go and another 600 opted for early retirement in the first wave of across-the-board personnel cuts at CBS Inc.
At that time, the company, in addition to blaming a poor economy as a reason for the layoffs, also cited the debt of nearly $1 billion that it incurred in fighting off a hostile takeover attempt by cable-TV entrepreneur Ted Turner.
CBS Inc., which last year reported having a 30,000-member work force, will have reduced that to 24,000 by year's end, a spokeswoman said.
After the current round of layoffs, CBS News will have about 1,150 employees. It has lost a total of 218 jobs in the two cutbacks, with a total of 144 persons dismissed and the other jobs eliminated either by attrition or by not filling vacancies.
(CBS-owned KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, on Wednesday laid off six employees, four of them in its news department, and says it won't fill nine existing vacancies. On-air reporter Bob Dunn's contract was not renewed, as part of the cuts, a spokeswoman said.)
The CBS Broadcast Group, which accounted for 75% of the $478.6 million in operating revenue profit of CBS Inc. in 1985, is responsible for the CBS news, entertainment, sports, radio, stations and operations divisions, and the CBS Television network.
Officials of the group have said they hope to save $40 million-$50 million through the job eliminations. The division will have approximately 7,300 employees after the current cuts are completed, a spokeswoman said Thursday.
She said that there will be additional job eliminations, but emphasized that this will be accomplished through attrition and retirements, and not through more layoffs.
In a memo to CBS News employees, Sauter called Thursday's layoff notices "a sad occasion, and our regret and sympathy go out to those who over the next few weeks will be ending their work here."
Those being laid off, he said, "have not been irrelevant to our purpose, and they have been loyal and responsible employees."
If they choose, he added, they will have "two weeks to complete their work."
He obviously seemed to be attempting to avoid the bitterness that occurred last September during the first wave of cuts, when some employees reportedly were given less than 48 hours to clean out their desks and leave.
Alluding to similar large-scale layoffs that occurred at ABC before and after its takeover by cost-conscious Capital Cities Communications, Sauter said that while "it is of little consolation that other companies are going through similar periods of anguish, it does remind us of the wrenching changes in the economy that supports our work."
However, he said, "there is no real alternative to the steps the Broadcast Group is taking this month."
While saying that CBS News can now "push into the future with a high level of confidence," he said that those remaining at the division "will remember this day with regret, and with a sense of loss for those colleagues who no longer will be working with us."