The Columbia Broadcasting System, once the home of legendary newsmen like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite but now the network of fluff like Katic Couric, is considering outsourcing much of its news gathering to Cable News Network.
The news has already demoralized members of the once-heralded CBS news division grumbling and polishing up their resumes.
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 asked for 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. Sandy Genelius, a spokeswoman for CBS News, said, “We are extremely pleased with and proud of our news-gathering operation. No outside arrangements are being negotiated.” A CNN spokeswoman said, “we don’t comment on speculative business matters.”
For CNN, a deal with a broadcast network would mean a new revenue stream without having to add much in costs. For CBS, an arrangement with a cable channel would allow it to cut costs while maintaining the CBS News brand, although in a much trimmed-down fashion. CBS is mired in last place amid the continuing struggles of Ms. Couric, who was given a $15 million a year contract, to attract new viewers.
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.