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News Investment

Network TV
By the Project For Excellence In Journalism
News Investment

By all indications, the resources devoted to newsgathering and program production at the broadcast networks shrank even further in a difficult 2009. ABC was hit hardest and in February 2010 announced yet another round of cuts that were reportedly as high as 27% of the news division. As 2010 began the news became grim at CBS as well.

The network news divisions do not generally release staffing figures. Also, the news divisions routinely pool resources across different media platforms. In the case of CBS News and ABC News this means working both in broadcast television and online video. At NBC News, in addition, staff members work for cable news networks. An NBC Universal spokeswoman told PEJ that its staff is so fully integrated that it would be impossible to separate.1

But there are some yardsticks that can offer indications of what is going on.
Those yardsticks suggest staffing cuts in the neighborhood of 8%, deeper for off-air personnel in 2009. The number of bureaus operated by the networks appeared to change only a little. NBC shuttered two bureaus — in Frankfurt and Amman — and opened bureaus in Afghanistan and Pakistan. ABC and CBS sent senior correspondents on extended reporting missions to the war there and for the first time since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, more resources were devoted to the coverage of Afghanistan than to Iraq.
Domestically, the number and location of bureaus maintained by the networks were basically unchanged from 2008.

Staffing

The evidence from press accounts and PEJ’s own tracking of media directories suggests the total number of staffers employed at network news divisions was down from 2008, even before the announced 2010 cutbacks.

One source of evidence for tracking network newsgathering resources is the list of people that the networks themselves provide to a media staff guide called the Leadership Directories. These lists are not definitive. There are no strict rules about whom the networks list and do not. But this analysis in the past has provided a guide to the trajectory of staffing at each of the networks.

Domestic News Staffing, by Network
2008-2009

2008 2009 Percentage Change
ABC 215 183 -14.3%
CBS 220 223 1.4
NBC 138 122 -11.6
Total 573 528 -7.9

Source: Leadership Directories

According to the Leadership Directories accounting, which is updated now relatively quickly, network news staffing over all dropped by 8% in 2009 from a year earlier, though these numbers do not include the announced additional cuts at ABC and CBS.

These reductions in 2009 appeared to be higher among off-air staffers. The number of editors, researchers, assignment managers and others listed in the directories decreased 25% in 2009. That is double the rate of decreases observed in 2008, when 13% fewer off-air staffers were listed compared to the previous year.

News divisions saw smaller cuts in on-air staffers and producers in 2009, though 2010 may prove more difficult for this group.

The number of anchors and correspondents, whether based in a bureau or associated with a program, dropped 4%, compared with a 6% decline in 2007, the directories show.

The number of producers listed in the directories was down by one person during 2009. A year earlier, the number of people listed in those job categories grew by 10%. The growth in 2008 may have reflected targeted hiring for the presidential campaign.  And in 2009, fewer staffers were located outside of the networks’ New York headquarters. The networks’ domestic bureau staff was down 14% in 2009, compared to a decrease of 6% in 2008, according to the directories.

ABC

The biggest overall reductions in came at ABC News.

In February 2010 ABC announced a major restructuring of its news division that according to press reports would result in 300 to 400 job cuts, totaling up to 27% of a 1,500 person worldwide news staff.2 In a memo to employees ABC News president David Westin stated that voluntary buyouts would be offered. Layoffs would be instituted if not enough employees volunteered to leave.3

As part of the plan, the news division would increase the use of digital journalists who shoot and edit their own material and freelance staffers. The restructuring would also see the combination of weekday and weekend staffs of Good Morning America and World News Tonight.4

News magazines would shift to include “a more flexible blend of staff and freelancers.”5

This announcement followed a series of smaller cuts in 2009 and even a few weeks earlier in 2010. In January of 2009, ABC News announced cutting about 35 staffers from its Primetime and 20/20 news magazine shows, ABC News Now digital service and ABCNews.com.6 That round of layoffs was part of a companywide staff reduction at the Disney-ABC Television Group that was the result of a “weakening economy.”7 Then, in May, cuts were made to the London bureau. The journalism blog MediaBistro reported that a minimum of 20 out of a total of 65 employees would be laid off.8 An ABC spokesperson told the website that the cuts were made to align… “worldwide resources with the new technologies available to us and the economic realities we all face.”9

Then 2010 began with yet another round. In January, ABC cut 31 more jobs at the news operation’s broadcast operations and engineering division in New York.10

Prior to the 2010 cuts, according to the analysis of directory listings, ABC News staff over all was down 15% in 2009 compared to a 2% reduction in the previous year.

In all, the directory listed 32 fewer staffers than in the previous year. That figure comports with news reports of about 35 domestic layoffs in spring of 2009.

ABC Domestic News Staffing
2008-2009

2008 2009 Percentage Change
On Air 78 71 -9%
Producers 82 71 -13
Off Air 55 42 -24
Total 215 184 -14

Source: Leadership Directories

The biggest cuts were made among off-air staffers, with 13 fewer in 2009, translating to a 24% reduction.

After adding a producer in 2008, the news division cut 11 in 2009, or 13%.
ABC also saw the steepest drop among the network news divisions in on-air staff, with seven fewer anchors and correspondents, a 9% reduction.

The news division continued to employ more staffers in domestic bureaus when compared to CBS and NBC, but like its competitors, ABC also made cuts in 2009.11
Domestic bureau staffing was down 9% from 2008, or six employees over all.

As this study was completed, the newer 2010 cuts had not yet been reflected in the directories.

The network cut 10 producers, a 19% reduction from 2008 levels, and eight off-air positions, down 23% from 2008.

NBC
The second biggest loss of positions in calendar 2009 appeared to take place at NBC News.

The year opened on a rough note. In December 2008 the parent company had announced job cuts totaling about 3% across NBC Universal’s personnel. According to press reports, others followed amid the turmoil at the network.
In September 2009, the New York Observer reported NBC Universal had sought the voluntary buyouts of employees in its news division, though the network did not confirm the story.  According to the report, NBC News employees, which include those at its cable news channels, were told layoffs would be instituted if enough staffers did not accept buyouts.12
No additional follow-up reports detailed how many buyouts were sought or how many accepted them. NBC declined to comment on these reports.

According to the directory analysis, however, NBC News staffing shrank by 12% in 2009 from a year earlier. The number of staffers was down 16 from 2008 to 122.13

NBC Domestic News Staffing
2008-2009

2008 2009 Percentage Change
On Air 50 52 -4%
Producers 53 43 -19
Off Air 35 27 -23
Total 138 122 -12

Source: Leadership Directories

The network cut 10 producers, a 19% reduction from 2008 levels, and eight off-air positions, down 23% from 2008.

NBC added two on-air staff members in 2009, a 4% increase, to 52 anchors and correspondents. This came after the network cut 15%, or nine, on-air employees in 2008.

But NBC News’ resources go beyond what is listed in the directories under the NBC broadcast network. The network news division offers separate listing for NBC Universal’s cable news channels MSNBC and CNBC. An additional 50 news employees are listed for MSNBC in the directory, (see Cable News Investment) and 88 more employees are listed for CNBC. The three organizations combined, all NBC News employees, total 260, the largest of the three networks. Those numbers do not include the Weather Channel, which is also part of NBC News.

CBS

While CBS News employees were spared significant layoffs in 2009, that may be deceptive. Industry insiders note that CBS headed into 2009 with an already much leaner staff (largely due to more severe cuts in 2008). And the network kicked off 2010 with the announcement of deep cuts to come.

In late January of 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported that CBS was cutting as many as 100 positions, equivalent to 7% of network’s news division.14 An unnamed CBS executive quoted in the article said the cutbacks would be made to reduce newsgathering costs and “make the news division more of a financial contributor” to the parent company. About 70 jobs were cut by the end of February 2010, according to one report.15

The cuts would be at every CBS News program, including highly rated 60 Minutes, according to the report.16

Word of layoffs at CBS News raised questions about CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric’s salary, reported to be $15 million a year.17 One CBS News insider told the Drudge Report website that Couric “makes enough to pay 200 news reporters $75,000 a year.”18

Nevertheless, Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports, told the Huffington Post that “there have been and are no plans and not even a single discussion about making a change or renegotiating” Couric’s pay.19

The cutbacks in 2010 were not reflected in the CBS directory analysis, which was completed in December 2009.20 According to the count, CBS News actually grew by three people during the year.

The news division added 20 producers, an increase of 23%, but cut 10 other staffers in off-air positions, a decrease of 29%. The network also cut 3% of staffing in its eight domestic bureaus during the year.

CBS Domestic News Staffing
2008-2009

2008 2009 Percentage Change
On Air 82 79 -4%
Producers 89 109 23
Off Air 49 35 -29
Total 220 223 1

Source: Leadership Directories

Correspondent Counts

Another way of measuring network news investment is by tracking the number of correspondents who appear on air during the year at least five times on each network’s weekday nightly newscast. This accounting, long used by researchers, may be a rough proxy of newsgathering muscle, but it has two virtues. First, the numbers go back many years. Second, they are not subject to the vagaries of self-reporting as the Leadership Directories estimates are.

After years of decline, the correspondent counts had leveled off and even grown slightly in recent years. In 2009, the counts went up slightly.

A total of 158 people filed at least five story packages for the evening newscasts in 2009. That was three more than in 2008, according to a newscast-by-newscast analysis conducted by ADT Research.

NBC had the most people on air, 59. ABC was second, with 53, and CBS third at 46.
The networks reached their peak in 1985, according to these data, when they averaged 77 correspondents appearing per network.

The numbers also give a sense of the workload employees in network TV are carrying, although it does not indicate whether these people also have to file for other shows, such as morning or magazines shows, or, in the case of NBC, cable. It also does not account for the level of reporting involved in the stories.

In 2009, the workload was slightly lighter for reporters contributing to the nightly news programs. The average newsroom size increased by an average of one person, to 53, while the workload decreased by about one story, to 32, according to ADT research.
Despite concern that workloads would increase as the news divisions shed employees in 2009, at least among on-air contributors, reporters are not being stretched any thinner.

Average Number of On-Air Correspondents and Workload
1989-2009
Design Your Own Chart

Source: ADT Research

Domestic Bureaus

Despite cuts to domestic news staffs in 2009, network news divisions appeared to maintain the same number of bureaus and newsgathering offices as in 2008.

Besides the Washington bureau, which covers the White House, Congress, the Pentagon, the Supreme Court and the many numerous agencies of the federal government, NBC had four domestic bureaus. It also maintained an office in New York City, where the news division is headquartered. The other two news divisions use the word “bureau” to describe their New York operation. According to figures from early 2008 provided to PEJ, CBS had seven domestic bureaus outside the Washington Beltway. According to figures from late 2008 provided to PEJ, ABC had eight domestic bureaus. Being television networks, all three news divisions, in addition, have working relationships with the newsgathering operations of local affiliates across the nation.

Domestic News Bureaus by Network

ABC CBS NBC
Atlanta Atlanta Atlanta
Chicago Chicago Chicago
Dallas Dallas Dallas
Los Angeles Los Angeles Burbank (Los Angeles)
Miami Miami Washington
New York New York New York (office)
San Francisco San Francisco
Seattle Washington
Washington No change from 2008

Note: ABC and CBS did not respond to PEJ requests to confirm the location of their domestic news bureaus.

Coverage From Abroad

The modes of foreign reporting have been changing since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s. For the broadcast networks, that has meant fewer permanent bureaus overseas, more one-person operations and, increasingly, dispatching news gatherers to locations around the globe as events take place. (See 2008 News Investment for changes observed in 2007-8.)

But as foreign coverage rebounded on all of the nightly programs in 2009 following the quadrennial pullback that always accompanies the presidential election cycle, the networks shifted resources as well.

As of November 2009, NBC told PEJ it had 12 overseas bureaus, the same number reported in 2008. It closed its bureaus in Germany and Jordan and opened bureaus in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In Jordan, NBC replaced its Amman bureau staff with a fixer, a local resident who helps a foreign correspondent with reporting duties. NBC told PEJ that in addition to Amman, it employed fixers in two other Middle East locations: Beirut, Lebanon, and Gaza in the Palestinian territories.

Another trend in foreign reporting came with partnerships. In September, CBS announced a partnership with the international news website GlobalPost. The deal provides CBS with reporting from the website’s network of 70 affiliated correspondents in 50 countries.21

Overseas News Bureaus by Network

ABC (10) CBS (14) NBC (12)
Latin America Latin America Latin America
Havana Havana Havana
Mexico City
Europe Europe Europe
Rome Bonn London
London London Moscow
Moscow Moscow
Paris
Middle East Middle East Middle East
Jerusalem Amman Baghdad
Baghdad Baghdad Cairo
Islamabad Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv Afghanistan
Kabul Pakistan
Asia Asia Asia
Beijing Hong Kong Beijing
Hong Kong Tokyo Hong Kong
Tokyo Beijing Tokyo
Bangkok
Africa
Johannesburg
Changes in 2009 Changes in 2009 Changes in 2009
No response No response Opened bureaus in Afghanistan and Pakistan; closed bureaus in Amman and Frankfurt.

Note: Information on bureaus from the networks. CBS figures are from early 2008; the network did not respond to requests for updated information. ABC figures are from late 2008; the network did not respond to requests for updated information.

According to the 2008 accounting, ABC claimed a presence in 17 overseas locations, including a new one office opened in Havana in 2008.  Ten of those newsgathering operations were traditional bureaus, while another were one-person bureaus. (See News Investment 2008)

In early 2008, the most recent year for which figures available, CBS told PEJ it operated 14 bureaus: Amman, Baghdad, Beijing, Bonn, Havana, Islamabad, Johannesburg, Kabul, London, Moscow, Paris, Seoul, Tel Aviv and Tokyo. CBS did not provide PEJ with more current data on bureaus or overseas staffing.

None of the networks had a bureau in Tehran when protests erupted over disputed Iran’s presidential elections. With no correspondents in the country, and with the government barring their entry, the networks turned to nonjournalistic sources, including cellphone video and social networking websites. An ABC News’ digital correspondent, Lara Setrakian, covered the protests by monitoring Twitter from her base in the Persian Gulf.

Hours Devoted to Stories With Foreign Datelines
1996-2009
Design Your Own Chart

Source: ADT Research

Hours Devoted to Stories on the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq
2003-2009, in Hours
Design Your Own Chart

Source: ADT Research

News Hole

The amount of time devoted to news within the 30-minute nightly newscasts — that is, time not consumed by ads, promos and teasers — held steady in 2009 at an average of 19.1 minutes, identical to 2008.

As recently as 2003 the average time devoted to news stood at just 18.1 minutes. The increase from 2003 to 2008 reflected a shift toward sponsorships of particular segments or whole newscasts by a single advertiser that displaced commercials from other advertisers.

NBC and CBS devoted the most time to editorial content, each with 19.4 minutes in 2009.
For NBC, the amount of time devoted to news was down from 19.8 minutes in 2008; for CBS it represented an increase from 19 minutes in the previous year.

The time for editorial content at ABC was 18.8 minutes, flat from 2008.

Time Devoted to News on Nightly Newscasts, All Networks
1988-2009
Design Your Own Chart

Source: ADT Research


Footnotes

1. NBC e-mail communication with PEJ, October, 29, 2009

2. Brian Stelter and Bill Carter, “News Units at ABC and CBS Try to Navigate Uncertain Times,” New York Times, February 28, 2009.

3. Matea Gold, “ABC News prepares major restructuring; between 300 and 400 staffers could be cut,” Company Town blog, Los Angeles Times, February 23, 2010.

4. “ABC News President David Westin promises that cuts will not impede ‘first-rate journalism,’ ” Company Town blog, Los Angeles Times, February 23, 2010.

5. “ABC News President David Westin promises that cuts will not impede ‘first-rate journalism,’ ” Company Town blog, Los Angeles Times, February 23, 2010.

6. Nellie Andreeva, “400 jobs cuts at Disney-ABC TV,” Hollywood Reporter, January 29, 2009.

7. Memo from ABC Television group president Anne Sweeney to ABC News employees obtained by the MediaBistro website, January 29, 2009.

8. Chris Ariens, “Job Cuts Coming to ABC’s London Bureau,” mediabistro.com: TVNewser, May 7, 2009.

9. Chris Ariens, “Job Cuts Coming to ABC’s London Bureau,” mediabistro.com: TVNewser, May 7, 2009.

10. Glen Dickson, “ABC Lays Off 31 in Broadcast Operations, Engineering,” Broadcasting & Cable, January 27, 2010.

11. Its nine domestic bureaus were also the largest number of the three networks.

12. Felix Gillette, “NBC Universal Seeking Another Round of Voluntary Buyouts from News Staff,” New York Observer, September 15, 2009.

13. The number of employees listed for NBC network news likely does not reflect the division’s entirety, since the network news division shares resources and staff with MSNBC.

14. Matea Gold, “Layoffs to hit CBS News next week,” Los Angeles Times, Company Town blog, January 29, 2010.

15. Brian Stelter and Bill Carter, “News Units at ABC and CBS Try to Navigate Uncertain Times,” New York Times, February 28, 2009.

16. Matea Gold, “Layoffs to hit CBS News next week,” Los Angeles Times, Company Town blog, January 29, 2010.

17. Danny Shea, “CBS News President Praises Katie Couric, Says No Discussion of Pay Cut,” Huffington Post, February 3, 2010.

18. “Couric Faces Pay Cut; Deep Layoffs Hit CBS News,” Drudge Report, February 3, 2010.

19. Danny Shea, “CBS News President Praises Katie Couric, Says No Discussion of Pay Cut,” Huffington Post, February 3, 2010.

20. CBS listed 223 in the directory in 2009, up from 220 in 2008.

21. David Carr, “Partnership for CBS News and GlobalPost on Foreign Reports,” New York Times, September 28, 2009.