CBS News, seeking to hold down news-gathering costs as its flagship evening and morning news programs continue to trail in the ratings, is preparing a significant round of layoffs next week, according to people familiar with the situation.
The budget tightening is expected to affect every CBS News program, including "60 Minutes," the network's crown jewel, though the cuts on that show will be minimal. As many as 100 positions, or 7% of CBS News' 1,400-person staff, could be cut, these people said.
A news executive disputed that figure and said the layoffs would be considerably fewer.
The cuts are prompted by a need to reduce news-gathering expenses and position the division to be a bigger contributor to the bottom line of parent company CBS Corp., the executive said.
"This is part of the overall plan to make CBS News successful and vibrant and award-winning for a long, long time," said the executive, who would only speak about personnel matters anonymously. "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."
But the news division's remaining foreign bureaus have already felt the blow. According to sources, the Moscow bureau was effectively closed Friday 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 staff is now composed of reporters in just London and Tokyo, 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 said about a dozen of the approximately 150 staffers 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.
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.
CBS Corp. President Leslie Moonves said last month that the TV advertising market was rebounding, but prime-time entertainment shows and sports programs have been the first to see the uptick, while news programs lag behind. CBS News also faces the challenge of having its two daily broadcasts, "The Early Show" and "CBS Evening News With Katie Couric," stuck in third place in the ratings.