ABC's Drastic Cuts: A Long Time Coming

ABC-logoIf you’re in a certain age range, say Generation X on up, you likely want to practically stand at attention and look at the TV every time you hear the distinctive drums and horns that comprise the commanding ABC News theme music. After Walter Cronkite left the CBS anchor chair in the early ’80s and until TV news took a nosedive in the 2000s, ABC TV dominated national news ratings. Even before that, virtually all of its owned-and-operated stations in the major markets and many of its affiliates in markets of all sizes led local news ratings.

Now, though, as we have pointed out on this blog before with others, even ABC News is looking and acting more like a local news operation. Starting this month, ABC News is another media organization trying to “do more with less” – that cliche I’ve been hearing in broadcasting for at least the last 16 years. This article details how ABC has shed about 400 jobs, on the technical and production sides, as well as “on camera” positions.

These actions likely strike a blow to the morale ABC, watching talented colleagues, still in their primes, walking out the door. The committed journalists left behind face daily challenges to crank out product without the resources they grew up with. Really, though, it’s a surprise that it has taken this long.

In 1999, when Don and I were representing a global airline, my job for several days was to coordinate access for an ABC 20/20 crew in Detroit to shoot a segment. For the better part of a week, six ABC employees were in town, from New York, to shoot one segment – a correspondent, two producers, a cameraman, lighting operator and an audio engineer. They all stayed at the Ritz-Carlton.

Having come from local news, I was shocked at the number of people and amount of money they “needed” to shoot their story. Local TV news was, and remains, “run and gun.” Network news, then, was Hollywood-esque. It was hard to believe, although the segment, technically, looked great on TV. It’s pretty amazing that looking good was enough to sustain relatively huge budgets for 11 years.

Now, ABC has decided to operate more like local TV has for years – fewer people touching the product, fewer employees on the payroll, fewer names you know on the air, more Skyped interviews rather than those shot and lit professionally.

So will you even notice? ABC is betting you won’t.

Once upon a time, ABC ended its broadcasts with the signature “More Americans get their news from ABC News than any other source.” That’s a line no single organization may ever be able to use again.