Staff Cuts Near as Channels 2 and 9 Are Consolidated
By CLAUDIA PESCHIUTTA
Major changes, including layoffs and the consolidation of production operations into one facility, are expected to take place at KCBS-TV (Channel 2) and KCAL-TV (Channel 9) as owner Viacom Inc. begins merging its two L.A. broadcast operations, according to the man hired to head up the duopoly.
Don Corsini said the plan is to have both stations move in together as soon as September. Which station will move is a "toss-up" and a "matter of what makes the most financial sense," Corsini said. The two stations will also share one news director, he added.
"If you're consolidating a two-station operation then, yes, there will be some loss to the job force," Corsini said. Cuts will be made at both stations and performance will decide who stays and who goes, he said. Corsini declined to comment further.
Corsini, the former president and general manager of KCAL, has been meeting with small groups of employees at KCBS to talk about the stations and answer employees' questions about the merger of operations prompted by Viacom's $650 million purchase of KCAL. Tensions were high last week as employees waited for a formal announcement of the changes.
"(Corsini) is giving relatively vague answers," said one KCBS employee. "None of us know what's going to happen. None of us know if we're going to keep our jobs."
Corsini said the KCAL and KCBS news operations would share one assignment desk when it merges operations into one facility, a source said.
"The newsroom here at Channel 9, the set-up might be a little better," Corsini said. "It's a little bit more updated."
KCAL is housed at the Paramount Studios lot on Melrose Avenue. KCBS shares the aging Columbia Square facility on Sunset Boulevard with radio stations including KNX-AM (1070). KCAL was renovated in 1990.
Corsini told employees that anchors might appear on both stations and that KCBS and KCAL might share live shots, according to a source.
"With the resources that we have collectively, we should be able to be extra, extra competitive," Corsini said. "In this duopoly, we should be able to control the news in the marketplace."
KCBS, which long has lagged in the ratings, has suffered from a lack of resources, according to current and former employees. "There won't be that many layoffs because KCBS has been understaffed for so long," said one station employee.
There already are signs of cooperation between the two stations. Anchors at KCAL and KCBS have been promoting stories running on their sister station's newscasts.
The only time slot in which the stations' newscasts compete is at noon, which may lead Corsini to cut one of the broadcasts. If he decides to cut one, the KCBS newscast seems most likely to go. During the noon hour in May sweeps, KCAL had a 2.9 rating, compared to a 1.8 for KCBS.
Corsini is expected to choose KCAL news director Nancy Bauer Gonzales to oversee both news operations. She is a veteran of the L.A. market who formerly was news director at KNBC-TV (Channel 4), one of the top-rated stations in the market. Corsini was expected to announce his choice late last week or this week.
The current news director at KCBS is Princell Hair, corporate director of news for the network and second in command to Joel Cheatwood, executive vice president of news for Viacom Television Stations.
New to station
Hair, who came to KCBS in December from a Baltimore station, has made significant changes to the newscasts, but during the May sweeps ratings period, the station's 11 p.m. newscast posted much lower numbers than in the like year-earlier period.
"There's no flow to it," complained one KCBS employee. "A lot of people are still very unhappy about it."
Bauer Gonzales, who became KCAL's vice president and news director in October, has had some success at Channel 9. The station's 10 p.m. newscast jumped to a 3.3 ratings share during sweeps, up from a 2.5 in May 2001. But both stations lag far behind their respective competitors.
Asked if CBS corporate executives would help decide on a news director, Corsini responded: "Of course they play a part. This is Viacom. This is a big company with a substantial news organization."
Developments at another Viacom duopoly offer some clues as to what might happen in L.A. Philadelphia's WPSG-TV and KYW-TV, along with a local Viacom-owned radio station, are working to produce a headline news service set to premiere in September. The radio station will serve as the producer, KYW will provide video and the service will air on WPSG. The three stations will help to promote each other.
"This effort is a good example of the many opportunities we are creating in our duopoly markets," Fred Reynolds, president of the CBS Television group, said in a statement. "The prospects for this type of joint effort in our duopoly markets are limitless."
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