Division says it's putting emphasis on one-person crews

ABC News is prepping to shed about 300 positions as part of a broader effort to downsize and harness new technologies to bring efficiencies to its newsgathering and production operations.

The Alphabet’s news wing will offer voluntary buyouts to non-union staff over the next few weeks, and it will work with unions, including NABET and WGA East, to navigate with buyout offers for union-repped employees as mandated under master contract agreements. ABC News employs about 1,500 people.

ABC News prexy David Westin emphasized that in addition to the staff reductions, the news wing needs to undergo a more “fundamental” transformation to a more nimble, tech-savvy breed of multi-tasking journos if ABC News is to maintain the scope and volume of production that it delivers today. Westin said he’s been working on the plan for the news division for several months, and that his thinking was shaped by thesharp downturn in advertising revenue across all of ABC last year.

“The business reality is that we are seeing challenges,” Westin told Daily Variety. “Although we’ve kept our heads above water, our long-term prospects (for the division) were not as solid as they could be. And it’s my job to make sure this division is healthy for years to come.”

Going forward, ABC News will emphasize much more run-and-gun digital newsgathering from correspondents and producers who will be responsible for shooting and editing much of their own material. That’s how producers on “Nightline” have worked for the past few years, with impressive results, Westin said.

A few years ago, ABC News began experimenting with having one-man-band operations overseas in cities including Seoul, Nairobi and New Dehli, where correspondent-producers were equipped with satellite phones and other digital tools. Those efforts will be expanded on the domestic front. Westin emphasized that the digital bureaus have yielded strong coverage and stories from reporter-producers who by definition have to be hands-on in reporting. He noted that satellite phones, digital vidcams and other tools have “matured” to the point where the technology is reliable and the material is easily of broadcast quality.

The division also took immediate cost-cutting steps as of Tuesday including the consolidation of production operations for the weekday and weekend editions of “World News” and “Good Morning America.” ABC’s newsmags and longform programming will move to a more “flexible” blend of freelance and staff producers.

WGA East was awaiting further details from the net on how the changes will affect ABC News scribes.

“We have been in contact with management and we anticipate getting details as soon as possible,” said WGA East exec director Lowell Peterson.

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