Wednesday, May 5, 2010

CBS and CNN May Combine News Operations

CBS News and Time Warner’s CNN are reportedly in negotiations aimed at creating a news-gathering partnership.

The talks are centered on how their two news divisions can combine operations, cut costs and expand audiences for both networks.

The talks are still fluid, which means that executives would speak only on condition of anonymity, but CNN and CBS began negotiations some time ago. "It's been going on for a couple of months," one person with knowledge of the matter said. "They’re in deep talks."

A joint news operation would allow both networks to use each other's news footage, combine bureaus in Washington and overseas and share expensive equipment.

CBS News, like the other broadcast networks, has been forced into layoffs during this brutal recession. Pairing with CNN would undoubtedly cut its newsgathering costs even further.CNN's sister Turner Networks TBS, TNT and truTV recently collaborated on a deal with CBS Sports to claim rights to the NCAA men's basketball tournament in a 14-year agreement announced last month.

The recent 400 layoffs at ABC News, current tanking CNN ratings, shrinking evening-news audiences, etc., are driving the most recent talks, which have been going on for a couple of months now. Both networks could use each other's news footage, combine bureaus in Washington and overseas and share editing, production and transmitting gear.

CBS President Les Moonves initiated the latest round of bargaining, according to The NY Post, when it became apparent that the network was going to have to cut far more than the reported 100 network news staffers who were let go last January.

CBS, like ABC, lacks a cable channel that could help shelter the costs of staffing a news division. Rival NBC has been increasingly steering its highly paid network talent, from Andrea Mitchell to Tom Brokaw, to its MSNBC cable outlet. Both CBS and ABC have long thought CNN might make an attractive partner.

Katie Couric's $15 million a year contract as anchor of the CBS Evening News will expire next year and CBS will likely not re-sign her at anything close to that. There have also been reports that that Couric is interested in taking over Larry King's CNN show if offered the role. CNN’s Anderson Cooper is also nearing the end of his contract with the network. His nightly show is struggling in the ratings, but his popularity would make him a good candidate for the evening news anchor job at CBS.

CBS News has previously expressed interest in recruiting Cooper, who already appears as a contributor to 60 Minutes. And next May, A combined CBS-CNN might offer more possibilities to negotiate Couric’s new deal while giving her additional opportunities to showcase her interviews.

Unlike Comcast and NBC, this type of merger wouldn't need any government approval, but union issues and the decision regarding which side would run the combined entity could be a tough road.


CNN continues to appeal the National Labor Relations Board ruling in favor of the union regarding charges by NABET-CWA that CNN used a restructuring ploy to illegally void union contracts for 350 CNN field camera crews and other technical workers in its news operations in New York and Washington, D.C. back in 2003.

CNN dropped a long-standing contractual relationship with Team Video Services, whose union-represented workers gathered news for the cable network, and shifted the operation in-house.
CNN re-hired many of the TVS workers, but to get rid of the union, "CNN expanded and packed the D.C. and N.Y. units in order to avoid a successorship obligation to recognize and bargain with NABET-CWA", the board's ruling stated.

Declaring that the workers no longer had representation, CNN immediately slashed wages, benefits and other working conditions and protections.

In his 169-page 2008 decision, Judge Amchan found that CNN was a joint employer with TVS of the subcontractor’s employees and, as a joint employer, the network was obligated to recognize and bargain with NABET-CWA over the decision to terminate the subcontracting relationship, as well as the decision to hire new employees.

The Judge further found that CNN’s Bureau Staffing Project was a sham, used by the network to discriminate against TVS employees in order to limit the hiring of those employees in order to avoid having to recognize and bargain with NABET-CWA. In reaching these conclusions, Judge Amchan thoroughly discredited all of CNN’s witnesses and rejected each of CNN’s defenses.

Judge Amchan’s 2008 order is a comprehensive remedy that requires CNN to recognize and bargain with NABET-CWA, as well as reinstate more than 110 employees who were not hired as part of the Bureau Staffing Project, restore the employees’ working conditions as set forth in the now expired union contracts except for improvements unless requested by NABET-CWA, and to make whole all employees for any loss of earnings and other benefits.

Two years later CNN continues to appeal the decision.

Download a PDF of the decision by clicking here.

CBS has longstanding relationships with AFTRA, IATSE, IBEW, and DGA. A shared services agreement with CNN could adversely impact those relationships and create major collective bargaining issues.

Both CBS and Time Warner declined to comment on the talks about the CBS News–CNN partnership.


This merger is bad for employees of both news operations and this merger will mean less news variety and less information and opinion for the viewing public to consume. We’re sure they could make it work, but bottom line, there will be one final decision maker on what goes on the screen, rather than two.

CBS caters to the right wing and CNN follows suit, so their editorial styles would not conflict.

A 2005 Media Matters for America analysis of CBS Evening News broadcasts since the 2004 presidential election found that the program featured Republicans and conservatives more often than Democrats and progressives.

In 2005, CBS officials refused to air a commercial for the United Church of Christ that promoted inclusion of gays, racial minorities and people with disabilities because they considered it "unacceptable for broadcast," noting in particular the Bush administration's endorsement of the Federal Marriage Amendment as part of their justification for not airing the ad.

In 2009 CBS allowed Tim Tebow's anti-abortion commercial to air during the Super Bowl. This commercial was paid for by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family.

The ever increasing use of shared service agreements, local news services, and multiple media outlet ownership is having a severe impact on diversity of news coverage across America, has created barriers to entry for new news outlets, and has created issues requiring investigation by the FCC, FTC, and DOJ. - BD

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