NEW YORK -- Joan Snyder is packing up 29 years' worth of memories at CBS News. Reporter's spiral notebooks, old photos (a dark-haired Snyder on assignment in a 1960s miniskirt), letters from viewers on stories that affected their lives -- it all spills out of drawers into cardboard boxes in an oddly quiet corridor of offices at CBS' "Sunday Morning."
"This whole place feels quiet," said Snyder, who has worked as a producer for "Sunday Morning" since 1987. "It's not just the layoffs -- it's the demoralization, people asking, 'Who's going to be next? Now what?' Being at CBS News today is like watching the lights go out on a skyscraper, one by one."
Snyder, who became the network's first female field producer at CBS in 1967 and worked for many years as a writer for Walter Cronkite, Mike Wallace and other CBS anchors, has been laid off in a new round of cutbacks at the network. CBS News is taking the biggest hit in the companywide cuts, with some 120 news employees expected to lose their jobs among 400 employees in all divisions.
All three broadcast networks are facing cutbacks in news in the recessionary economy, and Snyder joins such well-known on-air correspondents as NBC's Dr. Art Ulene and Don Oliver in layoffs that are expected to affect many veterans as well as newcomers in TV news. To many observers, the dismissal of the 55-year-old Snyder is symptomatic of a loss of wisdom under way in network news.
"Joan is a great lady and a great pro who's contributed excellently to broadcast news," CBS anchor Dan Rather said in an interview. "There's a tidal wave of new economic realities that has hit the business, and tidal waves aren't always selective about who they take with them. The heartache is that even people of a Joan Snyder's demonstrated talent and record are vulnerable to being laid off."
Snyder was laid off during a previous round of cutbacks at CBS News in 1987. But Rather, Wallace, "60 Minutes" executive producer Don Hewitt and others intervened, and Snyder's position was saved. This time, Wallace, Rather, "Sunday Morning" anchor Charles Kuralt and others expressed concern to CBS management about Snyder's dismissal to no avail. Friday was her final day of work.
Noting that CBS has said that it will lose $170 million this year on its Major League baseball contract, Snyder said, "Executives have made bad programming decisions, and then they expect employees to pay for it. They close bureaus and fire cameramen, producers, reporters in the field -- these are the people who make the business tick."
CBS officials, citing a company policy against discussing individual cases in the layoffs, declined to comment on Snyder's dismissal. But, while Snyder said that CBS News President Eric Ober praised her work when she met with him after being laid off, some CBS sources said that Snyder's sense of independence might have worked against her.
"I may have been seen as a maverick," Snyder said.