The big news from ABC is that 300-400 people are being let go in the news division. But so far I have not heard anything about the revolutionary mini-bureaus ABC set up about three years ago.
Back in 2007 ABC News struck a blow for increased foreign coverage. They became the only U.S. organization — other than NPR — that actually INCREASED its overseas presence. The organization created 1-person bureaus around the world. The move was bold and took advantage of evolving technology to increase international reporting.
The second graf of the January 2008 AJR piece on the move told the whole story:
“We are fixers, shooters, reporters, producers and bureau chiefs,” says ABC correspondent Dana Hughes from her home office in Nairobi, Kenya. She and her colleagues in these one-reporter bureaus will record, edit and transmit their own audio and video reports from Nairobi; Jakarta, Indonesia; Mumbai and New Delhi, India; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, as well as from neighboring countries. Their new assignments come at a time of ever-dwindling resources for foreign news and mark the network’s largest overseas expansion in 20 years.
The whole idea, David Westin, ABC News president told The Hollywood Reporter, is that technology makes it possible to have a bureau without a large staff or office space.
A reporter with a high-def camera and digital recorder, a good laptop computer and good editing software can do a major story alone. No need for the large support staff and office space and equipment once needed from the film-reporting days.
Hughes Nairobi wanted to be a part of the experiment from the beginning, according to Reuters. For her the focus is the story.
“We’re not going to be in a studio, we’re not going to have people do our makeup,” Hughes said. “The challenge for us on-camera is making sure that we find a great story and report it — reporting it in a way that people are going to watch.” She thinks it’s a myth that Americans aren’t interested in foreign news.
So far, in all the talk about the cuts at ABC News, I have not seen one mention of the mini-bureaus. Interviews with Westin don’t get to this point.
The mini-bureaus seemed to have even been a prototype of what ABC News is now saying they need in the domestic bureaus:
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. — L.A. Times
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.”
So I ask: What about the foreign mini-bureaus?
The creation of the mini-bureaus did not mean a massive increase in international reporting for the nightly ABC News broadcast. But they did provide more international news for the ABC News web site. With the mini-bureaus ABC was no longer dependent on outside sources for news beyond America’s borders or parachute journalism.
The move to create the bureaus seemed — at the time — to show ABC News was serious about covering the rest of the world.
And now in the coverage of this massive reduction if force at ABC News, I ask again: What about the mini-bureaus?
Maybe those interviewing ABC sources do not know these bureaus exist. Or maybe they don’t care.