Along with the great and convulsive changes that have come to the news business these last few years, here's another big one: The ABC network has announced plans to cut 25% of the workforce
at its news division.
For more than a decade, the networks have been pruning back what were once the world’s most well-funded news organizations. But the cuts at ABC are of a different magnitude. They either mean that ABC is, finally, exiting the news business, or that the entire basis of news programming has changed.
Of course, the time when all networks had correspondents on the ground in this or that foreign capital or hot spot is long passed. Part of yesterday’s cut is an acknowledgment—yet another acknowledgment—of this. Many of those who will leave the news division are part of a vestigial news apparatus that has continued to support, or pretend to support, an international news operation. Like all networks, ABC had found that it can profitably have personalities like Diane Sawyer or George Stephanopoulos or Barbara Walters discuss the news on air without having people gather it. The work behind the camera, it turns out, really doesn’t provide all that much value to viewers and advertisers.
“I frankly don’t think it will be particularly noticeable for viewers,” said ABC News’ long-time president, David Westin, in as clear an admission as you can make that the artifice needs no reality.
But I don’t think Westin really believes this—nor do any of the other proud people at the network who have covered the world with unlimited resources and in great style.
“It’s better for the organization if we embrace change rather than get dragged into it,” Westin said, putting on a good face.
The PR patter is about getting leaner and meaner with some happy talk about reporters—to the extent that there are reporters—using new technology and producing and shooting their own stories.
And, as it happens, there is no reason you could not create a thriving news operation exactly on that prescription.
Except for the fact that they won’t.
This is about an old dog and new tricks. And this is about the weight of the past. And it is about people who, for absolutely understandable reasons, cannot start over again, cannot reinvent, cannot be what they aren’t.
It really is over.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.