More than a dozen staffers let go, including longtime investigative reporter Pam Zekman
[Editor’s Note: This story has been updated.]
Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter Pam Zekman was one of a dozen staffers let go at CBS-owned WBBM-TV Wednesday as parent company ViacomCBS made 300 to 400 layoffs at CBS Entertainment Group.
It appears CBS 2 bore the brunt of the layoffs, first reported by Robert Feder. Among the names released were news anchor Erin Kennedy, sports anchor Megan Mawicke, reporters Mai Martinez and Mike Puccinelli and meteorologist Megan Glaros.
Other CBS-owned station layoffs announced thus far was Baltimore reporter Mike Schuh and Pat Warren, who were laid off at WJZ-TV; KDKA in Pittsburgh laid off anchors Susan Koeppen and Rick Dayton; and KCBS/KCAL laid off anchors Jeff Michael and Sharon Kay, and meteorologist Garth Kemp. Like CBS 2 here, KCBS ranks at the bottom of the news ratings while WJZ and KDKA each top the competition in their respective markets.
The layoffs come as the coronavirus pandemic has decimated advertising revenue, falling as much by half – and even more in some cases as businesses closed and slashed their ad budgets. Radio has been hit the hardest as iHeartMedia, Cumulus, and Hubbard have all have either furloughed or laid off staff locally in the last two months. Outside of station group owner Tegna, most television broadcasting companies have been spared – until now. Viacom and CBS re-combined last year after spitting apart in 2005 as Viacom and CBS Corporation, respectively.
CBS has always had a reputation for layoffs and cutting costs, starting in the mid-1980s under former owner Larry Tisch, who took control of the company at the time. Wednesday’s action comes to mind a similar layoff by CBS in 2008, on the brink of the Great Recession. Another huge layoff made by CBS in 1996 saw seven anchors and reporters from New York’s WCBS-TV fired in a story that made the front page of the New York Post.
Last year, CBS 2 cut Marissa Bailey and Rob Johnson.
The move by CBS 2 ends a long run for Zekman, who joined WBBM as an investigative reporter in 1981 at a time when the station dominated the local news ratings, led by anchors Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson. Even though the station has been numerous eras (including a tabloid TV), Zekman’s investigative reports were always must-see TV. Before joining WBBM, Zekman worked at the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times and won two Pulitzer prizes.