Even news anchors feeling tough times

The New York Times has a story this morning about the economy-driven layoffs of big-name local-market TV anchors.

The story's "nutgraph," or central point:

Across the country, longtime local TV anchors are a dying breed. Facing an economic slump and a severe advertising downturn, many stations have cut costs drastically in the last year, and veteran anchors, with their expensive contracts, seem to be shouldering a disproportionate share of the cutbacks. When station managers are forced to make cuts, hefty anchor salaries are a tempting target.

TV news is a big deal in Philly. Stations so far have not seen wholesale anchor cuts, though whittling has been going on here and there for some time.

Dave Huddleston, let go in June from Fox29, took a pay cut when he signed to do weekends at CBS3. Staying in town was important to him. Who out there thinks that Thomas Drayton, who replaced Huddleston at Fox29, is making Huddleston's old salary?

David Brunner, a TV agent in town, says stations are going after what may be perceived as "expendable" employees. "The days of three- and four-person sports departments and weather people who produce three [shows] a week are over," Brunner says.

Slots are going unfilled. There have been no direct hires to replace the four Philly anchors who left involuntarily this year: NBC10's Vince DeMentri and Lori Delgado and CBS3's Alycia Lane and Larry Mendte. (Lane-Mendte were making a combined $1.5 million while their successors Chris May and Susan Barnett, who were already on staff, probably are making half of that.) May, incidentally, was brought in to replace the retired Marc Howard, who was paid $800,000 to anchor one 4 p.m. newscast.

Stations are teaming up to save money. NBC10 and Fox29 are pooling video and helicopters.

Crain's New York Business reported last week that CBS took a $14 billion write-down on its television and radio assets in the third quarter and reported a 17 percent drop in operating income for its television division related to lower ad sales. At News Corp., operating income for Fox Television Stations dropped 48% in the first fiscal quarter, which ended Sept. 30. CBS's stock price has plunged 83 percent in the past 12 months; News Corp.'s has declined 73 percent. New York's local stations are expected to end the year down as much as 15 percent to 20 percent.

One quote in the Times story:

[Hofstra journalism professor Robert] Papper says longtime anchors at top-rated stations in local markets are at little risk of being laid off. But “if I were a very highly paid anchor of a No. 3 station, I’d be really nervous,” he said.

Renee Chenault-Fattah? Tim Lake? Dawn Stensland? Unless you're the top-rated Jim Gardner (who might have the only $1 million-plus deal out there) or one of his colleagues on Action News' 6 and 11 p.m. shows, you may be vulnerable.