Diann Burns fired from CBS2, others

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Posted by Morning Lemon on April 02, 2008 at 17:29:54:

Diann Burns, whose hiring as star news anchor five years ago was the cornerstone of a bid to rebuild WBBM-Channel 2, was forced out seven months early from the CBS-owned station.

Her abrupt departure Monday was one of at least 17 layoffs and cutbacks in a major bloodletting that was attributed to economic conditions companywide.

Other on-air cuts included sports anchor Mark Malone and reporters Mary Ann Childers, Katie McCall and Rafael Romo.

Channel 2 officials declined to confirm a specific number of jobs lost, but said they represented less than 10 percent of the work force.

"The reorganization of our team allows us to operate more efficiently," said Elizabeth Abrams, director of communications. "We will continue to invest in the people and in the infrastructure that will drive our future growth in ratings, in revenue and in community service."

Burns' hiring in 2003 after 18 years at top-rated ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7 was the culmination of a high-stakes strategy by Joe Ahern, president and general manager of Channel 2, who spent lavishly his first years on the job to lure anchors, reporters, producers and managers from his competitors in an effort to reverse the station's sagging fortunes.

Burns' five-year deal, reportedly worth $10 million, was thought to make her the highest paid news personality in Chicago history.

But the ratings revival never happened, and Burns became the most visible symbol of Ahern's unmitigated failure. While it became clear months ago that her contract would not be renewed, few thought Burns would be gone this soon.

"I got to be close to a lot of good people there, and we put on a lot of great news together," Burns said in a statement. "I wish them well."

Burns' husband and agent, Marc Watts, declined to discuss terms of her departure or what her next move might be. "It will all sort itself out in due time, and Diann looks forward to a new challenge," he said. "Our heads are high."

Malone, a onetime NFL quarterback and former ESPN host who joined Channel 2 in 2004, also never caught fire with viewers here. His exit was foreshadowed by Ahern's hiring last month of sports anchor Ryan Baker from NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5.

The most revered and respected veteran cut was Childers, who'd preceded Burns as 10 p.m. anchor at Channel 7, where she had worked for 14 years before jumping to Channel 2 in 1994. Underutilized and undervalued as an anchor, she most recently was medical editor and special projects reporter.

In a note to colleagues, Childers wished them "nothing but success." Her husband, Jay Levine, continues as Channel 2 senior correspondent.

Off the air, cuts included an unspecified number of producers and others, including Caryn Brooks, Mike Chesterfield, Phil Hayes, Steve Mills, Harvey Moshman, Anita Selvaggio, Tansy Soltysiak, John Truitt and Vicki Zwart.

Along with at least four layoffs in early March and others at the end of 2007, Monday's cutbacks further plunged morale among staffers.

Despite his gifts as a flamboyant showman, Ahern will face a tough time turning his station's move to new Loop studios at the corner of Washington and Dearborn, now planned for July, into the festive celebration he's been hoping for. No one's in a party mood now.

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