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Layoffs sweep TV networks and their affiliates

In what is quickly becoming an alarming trend, CBS and its owned stations in Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco have joined other television broadcasters in laying off news personnel. The cuts include one of Chicago’s highest-paid anchors, two well-known anchors in Los Angeles and five on-air veterans in San Francisco.

In Chicago, cost cutting at WBBM-TV has claimed at least 18 jobs including that of anchor Diann Burns, who earned $2 million a year. About a dozen news staffers will leave KCBS-TV and KCAL-TV in Los Angeles, in addition to an unknown number of technical staff. In San Francisco, KPIX-TV is letting go 14 newsroom employees.

Joe Ahern, WBBM president and general manager, told the “Chicago Tribune” no department was exempt. “We have to rethink how we do business,” Ahern told the newspaper.

At CBS News, on the network level, the “New York Times” reported there are plans to lay off about 1 percent of its nearly 1200 employees. The cuts will not include any on-air staff members, CBS executives said, and are concentrated mainly on technical and support personnel.

CBS revenues declined 14.6 percent in the fourth quarter. The share price has also been declining, down almost 20 percent for the year.

“The Early Show” is losing five employees. Those layoffs come on top of an exodus in the last several months of more than 20 people during an upheaval that brought in a new executive producer, Shelley Ross, who was fired six months later.

Also, last week, ABC News announced that it was eliminating about 20 jobs (though an ABC spokesperson said other positions will be added, keeping the overall job loss to less than 10 positions). The division president, David Westin, has said he intends to cut about 30 jobs by next year.

NBC News ordered a series of job cutbacks two years ago as part of a companywide initiative called NBC 2.0, which set a goal of cutting 700 positions by the end of this year. About 30 of those cuts have come from inside NBC’s news operation, which is much larger than CBS’because it includes a separate cable news channel, MSNBC.

The NBC initiative did involve cuts in the news operations of the stations it owns in cities including Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C..

“I’m afraid this is just the beginning, folks,” said the industry Web site Lost Remote. “While local TV is a very profitable business and certainly not threatened like the newspaper industry, declining audiences and a softening economy will bring tough times in the months and years ahead. More than ever, it’s critical for stations to do their best to protect and grow their online initiatives — a tall order when fighting tooth and nail for every rating and share point with fewer resources.”