The ongoing shake-up at KCBS-TV continued this week when Channel 2's recently rehired news director, Erik Sorenson, promoted Jose Rios, a nine-year veteran with the station, to the position of assistant news director.
"Jose has done outstanding work in every position he's held in our department, and I look forward to having his experience, abilities and sense of KCBS-TV history," Sorenson said in a prepared statement.
The National Hispanic Media Coalition, a community advocacy group that has been critical of the CBS-owned station's policies regarding minority hiring and promotion, greeted the announcement with cautious optimism. "Mr. Rios' appointment is a very positive sign," said spokesman John Huerta. "I think he is an excellent choice by CBS. But we are looking for other positive signs."
Sorenson, who reassumed his news director's job May 18 after resigning last October, has moved quickly to reestablish control at the station, which has been buffeted in the last nine months by an ill-fated alteration of its news format, two upheavals in the general manager's office and a 6 1/2-week strike by news writers.
Thursday's promotion of Rios, who had served as assignment editor for the last four years, came after the resignations--reportedly requested by Sorenson--of four ranking news staffers: senior executive producers Bruce MacCallum and Linda Bell, executive producer Bill Cunningham and Don Dunkel, who had been acting news director between Sorenson's stints.
The newsroom changes are designed to rebuild KCBS' credibility in hard news and investigative reporting, Channel 2 spokeswoman Andi Sporkin said.
Sorenson declined to comment on the latest round of promotions and resignations.
But in a recent memo explaining his actions to the staff, Sorenson wrote that "a fresh start and fresh leadership" were needed. "This has been an extremely difficult time for all of you. . . ." he continued. "Despite the battering of the past couple years, we still have the best news operation in town."
Rios' promotion, Sporkin said, was Sorenson's first step in his mending process. She said that his next task will be to fill the remaining three positions left in the wake of the resignations.
She denied that the move was connected to the ongoing criticism of the station by the National Hispanic Media Coalition, which picketed KCBS one day last month. Huerta expressed the hope that the coalition's protest and subsequent meetings with top KCBS management was a factor in the decision.
"I think that's an insult to Jose's ability and experience," Sporkin said. "He was a logical person to be chosen for that position."
Rios was not available for comment.
Sorenson was the news director last fall when KCBS redesigned its local newscast in a "news wheel" format--a series of 20-minute-long, specialized life-style segments that it touted as "the next generation of local news." But rather than rising out of third place among the local network-owned stations, KCBS lost audience share points. General manager Frank Gardner was ousted in October and Sorenson resigned a few days later.
Gardner's replacement, Tom Van Amburg, resigned last month. The new general manager, Robert Hyland, rehired Sorenson, who had been working for the previous two months as news director at KTTV Channel 11.