Journalists and observers reacted online Wednesday and Thursday to layoffs at CBS News, particularly those at local affiliate WBBM-Channel 2 in Chicago. Among those laid off was reporter Pam Zekman, who had been at the station for nearly 40 years.
“Legend. Damn. Most valuable internship I had, working in Pam Zekman‘s investigative unit. Learned how to spot BS, read a court case quickly, chase loafing city workers and outwork interns from snotty Medill,” wrote Lansing State Journal’s Graham Couch after reading Robert Feder’s report that Zekman was among those cut.
“Best part: She treated a 21-year-old kid like he was part of the team,” Couch added.
NPR’s Carrie Johnson called Zekman’s inclusion in the layoffs “a crying shame” and wrote, “I grew up watching her marvelous reporting.”
The layoffs took place as ViacomCBS rolled out a plan to institute another round of layoffs, this time will impacting CBS Entertainment Group. In an email to staff reviewed by TheWrap, CBS News president Susan Zirinsky said, “These decisions are particularly painful for our entire organization, which has performed at the highest level during the Covid-19 pandemic, overcoming so many obstacles.”
“We are restructuring various operations at CBS as part our ongoing integration with Viacom, and to adapt to changes in our business, including those related to COVID-19,” said a CBS spokesperson. “Our thoughts today are with our departing colleagues for their friendship, service and many important contributions to CBS.”
Local newspapers and digital media outlets have been hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis and associated shutdown of businesses, which has led to a stall in advertising revenue. ViacomCBS’s mid-pandemic layoffs, attributed partially to “changes … related to COVID-19,” mark some of the very first in the television industry. Notably, it was local newspapers and outlets like Feder’s website in Chicago and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that broke the news of which affiliate anchors were let go.
NBC News’ Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani posted a reflection Thursday: “Thinking of my friends @CBSNews today going through layoffs. Just all so brutal what’s happening to our industry (and many others) during these difficult times.”