In a must read, The New York Post’s Peter Lauria follows in ICN and Jossip’s footsteps and provides more details on the budget cuts coming to NBC and MSNBC…
December 6, 2007 — NBC boss Jeff Zucker is expected to make big cuts on the newsgathering and operational side of the company’s news division, including eliminating an entire level of MSNBC’s management team, in a bid to save between $20 million and $40 million, The Post has learned.
Among those set to have their jobs eliminated at MSNBC are two holdovers from previous regimes - head of primetime programming Bill Wolf and Editorial Director Davidson Goldin. Wolf is a holdover from Rick Kaplan’s days with NBC, while Goldin was recruited to the network when Dan Abrams served as general manager.
The duo’s impending departures follow those of daytime programming Vice President Susan Sullivan and Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief Tammy Haddad, both of whom left MSNBC of their own volition.
More telling than the departures themselves, however, is the fact that NBC has no plans to replace any of these positions, according to one company insider. A second company insider noted that with ratings on the entertainment side of NBC down about 15 percent in November sweeps, an ongoing writer’s strike and an anticipated tough economy heading into 2008, the pace and proportion of cuts may accelerate rather than wane after the current round is complete.
First of all I question Lauria’s characterization of Sullivan and Haddad’s departures. “left on their own volition”? I think not. This is probably a tell as to where this leak to Lauria came from, btw. Moreover it’s clear from all these moves that suits at 30 Rock think they can have or want to have direct control over MSNBC and eliminating a layer of management is a means to that end. I originally wrote when she was hired that Shannon High-Bassalik was being put into a position where it appeared she didn’t have a lot of wiggle room to operate given the fact that Sullivan and Goldin would stay in place. With the two now gone, Bassalik will have much more of an imprint on what happens on MSNBC.
According to one company insider, staffers at the news division, which has already had a round of layoffs, are surprised that they are bearing the brunt of the cuts given that Zucker “grew up” in the unit.
“They feel they’ve been wronged,” said another source close to NBC News.
But another source dismissed the grousing by noting that it is precisely because Zucker intimately knows the news division that he feels it can still succeed with less resources.
Zucker is keenly aware, however, of how competitive MSNBC has become with CNN in primetime, at times squeezing past its rival into second place behind Fox News in the ratings. And given that primetime is where the money is made, sources said that even though Wolf is headed out the door, MSNBC’s primetime programming - i.e., the shows hosted by Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann and Dan Abrams, as well as the documentary unit - are sacrosanct and won’t be affected by any of the cuts.
There’s lots to say about this section and what it says and, more importantly, what it implies.
First of all, notice how nobody gives any lip service to defending daytime, where the news is? The cuts appear to be all be landing there. And, after sitting on my keyboard on this for months, I’m now going to say what has been whispered about internally for a while. The cost reduction mentality will affect talent, and not just at MSNBC, one way or another. I’m not going to get into specifics because the situation is still fluid and nothing official has been decided. But the goal is to reduce overhead in the talent area while trying to maintain quality. And then there’s the operational cuts. Those will definitely impact how the network functions. And it couldn’t come at a worse time for MSNBC because the network’s daytime news coverage has been the best its been in years. I would be shocked if MSNBC daytime can maintain that level of quality once these cuts come down.
Couple this with the “hands off” order on primetime, and you could be excused for getting it into your head that NBC News isn’t that interested in what goes on at MSNBC daytime. I can understand that to a certain extent. Primetime is where the money is. Daytime isn’t. But NBC News’ reputation is based in no small part on how it covers news. Its credibility is based on news gathering and reporting. MSNBC daytime is an offshoot of all that. By throwing all the cuts at daytime, NBC News in my opinion is putting its credibility in some jeopardy.
Second of all, this points to the pressure from GE to maintain an unbelievably high profitablity ratio out of the news division. Let’s be perfectly clear here, NBC News is profitable. Very profitable. But not profitable enough by GE standards apparently. Contrast this with the way Disney treats ABC News. Disney wants ABC News profitable and it is. But Disney isn’t going to be so stubborn regarding profits that it will put so much pressure on ABC News to cut as deep as NBC News is about to cut.
And, though I’ve written about this before it bears repeating; NBC News is paying dearly for the failure of others.
Update: It’s starting. TVNewser has obtained an internal email regarding a temporary hiring freeze for Daily Hire and Freelance camera and audio crews. I can add to this a bit. I heard the approval process for field crews has added another layer, meaning more people have to sign off on it before it happens…
Update 2: An industry insider points ICN to this FishbowlNY article on Jeff Zucker and the NY Post business section. I had forgotten about that article. But looking back at today’s Lauria article, it seems to fit a pattern, especially since it frames the story as a Jeff Zucker cut in the first sentence and not cuts being decided upon by NBC News’ management team. The insider added, “Zucker has long been a source for Peter Lauria who continues to suck up to him and treat him with kid gloves. This was nothing more than a pre-emptive move on Zucker’s part”