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ABC News prepares major restructuring; between 300 and 400 staffers could be cut [updated]

ABC News is poised to make a major round of cuts that will reduce the size of the news division by as much as 20% and radically reorder the network’s traditional approach to news gathering.

Forced to belt-tighten by the weak advertising market, network executives have opted to restructure the labor-heavy newsroom from top to bottom in favor of a leaner, more nimble operation, according to multiple sources. Many of those remaining in the pared-down news division will be expected to both produce and shoot their own stories, acting as “one-man bands,” a model increasingly being adopted in television news.Abcnews

The process is expected to begin Wednesday morning when employees receive a letter asking for volunteers to take buyouts and leave the company. Newsroom employees have heard that the network is seeking to shrink the newsroom by as many as 300 positions, about 20% of the 1,400-person staff. If not enough employees volunteer to leave, layoffs are likely to follow.

For the last month, the newsroom has been rife with rumors about the cutbacks, which are poised to be the most dramatic reshaping of ABC News since Roone Arledge revolutionized the division by recruiting a team of high-wattage anchors and launching new franchises during his 20-year tenure as news president. Anxious staffers are not only fearful about losing their jobs but also are apprehensive about, if they remain, how the restructuring will affect their ability to chase big stories and swarm major news events.

ABC executives are internally casting the belt-tightening not as a retrenchment but as a repositioning. By streamlining news-gathering operations now, officials hope to stave off repeated cuts in the coming years. They contend that a smaller news division does not mean a less competitive one. With technological advancements such as hand-held digital cameras, the news division can now dispatch one person to cover a story that once required a correspondent, a producer and a two-person crew.

News organizations large and small have been forced to let go of staff and reduce expenses in the last few years to cope with a drop in advertising revenue caused by the global economic slowdown. Earlier this month, CBS News cut at least 90 positions, shuttering its Moscow bureau and significantly shrinking its staff in Washington, London and Los Angeles.

ABC News has also trimmed staff in the last few years, but this round of cuts is the biggest in recent memory, network sources said, surpassing the 125 positions that the news division lost in 2001 as part of companywide job reductions by corporate parent Walt Disney Co., when correspondents such as Sheila MacVicar and Morton Dean left the network.

The industrywide financial troubles have been felt keenly at ABC, whose flagship morning and evening newscasts remain in second place in the ratings behind NBC. “Good Morning America,” the main revenue generator for the network, has fallen 10% this season in the 25- to 54-year-old advertising demographic.

[Updated at 12:52 p.m.: In a memo that went out to employees Tuesday afternoon, ABC News President David Westin confirmed that the network would undergo "a fundamental transformation," dramatically expanding the use of digital journalists and combining production staffs. "The time has come to anticipate change, rather than respond to it," he wrote. "We have a rare opportunity to get in front of what’s coming, to ensure that ABC News has a sound journalistic and financial footing for many years to come, and to serve our audiences even better."]

[Updated at 1:29 p.m.: In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Westin said the cuts were not mandated by ABC's corporate parent, Walt Disney Co., but that he concluded they were necessary after "a very tough year financially."

"We have managed to keep our heads above water financially but not by much," Westin said. "It was a sobering experience for all of us. It made us think long and hard to make sure we have a successful and thriving future going out over the next five to 10 years."

Read Westin's full memo to staff here.]

[Updated at 3:36 p.m.: The final number of job reductions could be between 300 and 400, sources said, a cut that would amount to a quarter of the news division's staff. Westin told The Times that he “would never want to pretend that this is going to be easy for anyone.” But, he added, technology “makes it possible for us to gather and produce the news in a different way that either maintains the editorial quality or enhances it but requires fewer people.”]

-- Matea Gold

Comments () | Archives (25)

Interesting that none of the anchors with exorbitant salaries--like Sawyer with her cool $12million--offered to take pay cuts thereby increasing the network's fiscal flexibility. Maybe it wouldn't make much difference, but the gesture would speak volumes.

Fox News is hiring.

Personally, I believe ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC have been far to lenient on the Obama administration where Fox NEWS HAS BEEN fair an balanced and has been taking market-share from them as well as advertising revenue.

Personally, I believe Steve is a very silly person.

Cuts always create a lot of anxiety at the workplace but I agree with the rationale for this cut. This will result in ABC producing the same # of stories with lesser amount of resources. In other words, productivity enhancements that will make the organization stronger.

Having been in the news game at the local and network level, sure, there are many ways to use the new technologies to streamline your operation, in the field as well as back at the studio. However, taking multiple jobs and combining them doesn't work the way you expect. Yes, you can get pictures on the air that way. But what you miss is getting depth and angles to the story because the reporter, instead of talking to people, making calls, getting the story, they are trying to get video and set up interviews, then also be editing their stories. Streamlining is not the issue. The issue is how far you go before the product suffers. Since all the other stations and networks are going to start doing this as well, what will happen is the advantage will now go to print and it's ability to really get to the heart of the story and grab all the details.

Propaganda is a wonderful thing, those who fall for it INSIST they are right and the others, the enemy, are wrong. Steve will not be waking up in this lifetime, he's lost his way and we cannot change it.

Since I rate ABC News a closely corrupt second to Fox, their news division can cease to exist for all I care

This should be a wake up call to all TV news employees. Walk away and don't look back. If you're an intern or college student looking to enter TV news, change course ASAP. If you're an irresponsible parent or spouse, financing a "budding" poverty-stricken reporter, anchor or producer at a small market TV station with hopes of hitting "the big time", cut off the lifeline now. I know, I've been there. This is a DYING business with no chance of resuscitation. Heck, the labor unions that represent(ed) news workers aren't lifting a finger to protect the thousands of workers who lost their jobs over the past 2 years.

Hunter S. Thompson's assessment about TV news being "a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs"... is so on the money!

Death spiral...

Start with Dianne Sawyer.

Love the story about the Good Morning America staff writer who took a job at UPS to make ends meet after being laid off by ABC. Poor guy was in his mid-50's and suffered from back problems. Here he is shuffling boxes on and off delivery trucks. Kind of shows the value of a career in TV news, eh? I agree with the above comments; RUN!!!

Thank you Steve for making such an sharp observation and I admire how you cut to the core of this story. This article is all about politics and Obama. Thank you once again for being so smart, brave and over all outstanding person. We need more people like you...not.

I would fire the Obama voters first.

They're the ones who voted for "change"...

Shoot and produce the news story? That's ridiculous. It's possible, but that's ridiculous. As one who not too long ago worked in a print newsroom, I can say that trying to shove together multiple jobs to increase the bottom line for share holders always reduces the quality of the news product. There is simply no way of avoiding this. Of course, ABC will spin this as a "leaner, more nimble" newsroom, but that's a lie and they know it. And I agree, paying millions to celebrity anchors who don't actually do any newsgathering is just plain wrong and displays utter disregard for the true purpose of a news agency.

Fox News may be hiring, but the wages paid there can barely get you out of your parents' basement ... or you hope your spouse or partner has a high-paying job so you can pursue your dream ...

I think it is a very short sighted decision. I am not in the news business.. I only watch it and even I can see how impossible it would be for a news reporter to be out researching a story, worrying about getting the video, interviewing the person, then what? turning the small hand held camera on himself? it sounds like amateur you tube video....and..like others said.. those very high priced anchors.... are not taking any pay cuts at all are they?

Don't you rather wonder if the perky allegiance to the White House's world views regarding the economy will change if these same news organizations are forced to face the same real world scenarios as their non-media corporate counterparts? Talk about irony.

Not to turn this into a political squabble there "eguardo", but the severe recession we're all feeling had its genesis in the Reagan administration. He approved the deregulation of banks, and gave corporations tax breaks to send jobs overseas. Then President Clinton signed NAFTA sending more jobs across the borders, allowed more corporate deregulation and (pertenant to this article), signed the Telecom Act of 1996, which loosened restrictions on media ownership and allowed all this nastyness you see now to happen. It was all a tightrope balancing act until George W Bush stumbled onto the wire and brought the whole thing crashing to the ground.

Now Obama is trying to clean up the mess & getting no help in the process (from Democrats or Republicans).

Why waste money gathering news? Most of these news shows are about glamour pusses posing, pouting and waffling. Then come the teases and the commercials. Any one dumb enough to watch this nonsense will never know nor remember what you said so just make a guess at the news. How hard can that be? It the same old dumb countries blowing each other up.

Sounds to me like they're getting ready to institute desktop editing software there at ABC News. It allows managers to eliminate news writers and video editors by forcing show producers to write AND edit their own material for broadcast. You can expect a 40-percent reduction in workforce. Not one manager will see a pink slip though; guaranteed!

Soon, even the show producers won't exist. Anchors, who once took 3 hour cocktail breaks in the evening between shows will soon be churning out their own news copy. Not veteran Paul Moyer or Jerry Dunphy types either. Rather, journalism students fresh out of college, willing to work in a BIG market for non-union slave wages.

Parents or mentors: if you know a journalism student right now, urge them to follow a different career path and save a decade or so of heartache.

"But what you miss is getting depth and angles to the story because the reporter ...... [is busy editing etc]". Surely you jest?! Depth and angles? Not on any commercial channel. The only depth is the weather report and the only angles are at the glamourous reporters ( i.e. prompter readers). They giggle and make such dumb irritating "jokes". You have to go to PBS or CSPAN for depth and angles. 90% of people do not know any news topic in depth. Name 2 cities in Israel? What is the capital of Iran? Go on - just ask them. Many many people do not know how many stars on the flag. Go on - just ask them. Howard Stern and Jay Leno have shown on their shows that many many people can't answer the simplest questions of general knowledge.

Why not just focus the camera on the tele-prompter and cut out the middle man? I can read just as well as Diane Whatshername. In fact weller ;-)

ChickaBOOMer -- David Westin: "A very tough year financially."

I have worked both in front and behind the camera for about 15 years. I believe the quality of the produced suffers when you have one person doing all the work. When I am in front of the camera I like it when the director tells me where to stand or if I am too stiff. When I work with the all-in-one reporter, the product always turns out poorly because my head moves to much or something.

Maybe if the remaining reporters and I use that term loosely) get their noses out of Obama's rear end and start actually reporting facts and scandalous policy decisions, they'll get their viewers back. I switched to Fox during the 2008 election and have never looked back... or tuned in to network TV again.


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