CBS News: The Beginning of the End?

CBS logo going down drainIs this the beginning of the end for CBS News? Or is this just the TV world's version of a joint operating agreement?

CBS, the home of the most celebrated news division in broadcasting, has been in discussions with Time Warner about a deal to outsource some of its news-gathering operations to CNN, two executives briefed on the matter said Monday.

Over the last decade, CNN has held intermittent talks with both ABC News and CBS News about various joint ventures. But during the last several months, talks with CBS have been revived and lately intensified, according to the executives who were given anonymity because of the confidential nature of the negotiations.

Broadly speaking, the executives described conversations about reducing CBS's news-gathering capacity while keeping its frontline personalities, like Katie Couric, the CBS Evening News anchor, and paying a fee to CNN to buy the cable network's news feeds.

Another possibility, these people said, would be for CBS to keep its correspondents in certain regions but pair them with CNN crews.

But, these people cautioned, no deal was imminent. Through a spokesman, CBS declined to comment. A CNN spokeswoman said, "we don't comment on speculative business matters." [...]

The discussions are being led by Sean McManus, the president of CBS News, and Jim Walton, president of the CNN news group. Many questions remain regarding unions, rights issues and the level of involvement of other CBS News products like "60 Minutes" and "The Early Show."

If a significant deal is reached between CNN and CBS, it would mark a watershed in broadcast history, a strategic shift in the face of changing market forces by the network that is widely credited as having invented television news, establishing a powerful tradition with journalists like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.

In 2007, however, "CBS Evening News With Katie Couric" was in third place, averaging 6.43 million viewers a night, down 13.4 percent from 2006, according to Nielsen Media Research. ABC averaged 8.38 million viewers for its nightly newscast, and NBC averaged 8.29 million. (Fox, the fourth major broadcast network, does not have a national newscast; Fox News Channel is a cable network like CNN.)

In the morning, CBS News is also the perennial third-place finisher. In 2007 "The Early Show" on CBS averaged 2.5 million viewers, less than half that of NBC's "Today," which averaged 5.38 million. ABC's "Good Morning America" averaged 4.77 million.

CNN and CBS have had a long flirtation, and there is no guarantee that this latest round of talks will be any more fruitful. In 1998, it emerged publicly that the two sides were talking about an extensive joint venture, and later, in 2002, CNN was close to reaching a deal with ABC News, but those talks eventually broke down over control issues.

The real question: How will Lou Dobbs feel about this???

Speaking of Katie Couric, Monday's Washington Post features an interview with the low-rated CBS anchor. Some key quotes:

  • Couric on Hillary Clinton: "I identify with her to a certain extent because we share a gender," the CBS anchor says. "I'm sensitive to coverage that can be very subtly stacked against her, maybe a headline that has a little more snarkiness about her. . . . I understand that kind of coverage because I've experienced it myself."
  • On her poor ratings: "I've never really judged my worth by ratings. It was nice to be number one on the 'Today' show, but to me it was more important to do a good show. Our broadcast, I think, is of really good quality. Hopefully more people will come to it. I feel really good about the job I'm doing every single night."
  • "On the political front, Couric believes the imbalance in the way the Democratic candidates are portrayed stems in part from some reporters 'who are predisposed not to like the Clintons.' But she says the coverage has evened out recently, thanks to a pair of comedy skits that portrayed journalists as being in the tank for Barack Obama. ' "Saturday Night Live" did have a big impact on the media,' she says."

Update 04-08. CBS News denies the New York Times story quoted above, although the wording is very specific, saying it "has no plans" and that "no outside arrangement is being negotiated."

Makes you wonder if there were such negotiations in the past. Definition of is? Or am I overstating?

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013