Since joining ABC News in 1988, Rooney has covered big events such as the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Southern California wildfires, the Oklahoma City bombing, the 1992 Los Angeles riots, the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the 1989 student uprising in Tiananmen Square and the 1989 San Francisco earthquake.
He also covered the recent Late Night Wars — and I spoke to him several times over those crazy days in January.
But with ABC News cutting as much as 25% of its workforce — and half of its domestic correspondents — I asked Rooney to talk a bit about his sadness in leaving ABC, and whether this has soured him on broadcast news:
ON THE AIR: Did you see this coming? After 22 years at ABC News, how did you take this news?
ROONEY: In some ways I saw it coming. Once the word got out they were cutting as many as a quarter of the employees, I knew I was vulnerable. My contract expired in the middle of all this, and often in these situations they fire the people they are able to fire quickly, regardless of value or skill. I don’t take it personally. They know I’m good at what I do and no one had fun firing me. So when they told me I took it like a man, although in private moments I have not.
ON THE AIR: What’s the mood in the bureau been like since the ABC News downsizing was announced?
ROONEY: The mood not just here in Los Angeles, but all over ABC News is dark. Friends are disappearing and few people know whether they will have a job or what their job might be at the end of this. Just as an observer, aside from my personal interest, I have never seen a corporate reorganization as drastic and immediate as this. It will have unintended consequences. They will and already have lost people they want to keep. But the amazing thing — I just love journalists — these people will do their jobs until they are told to leave the building.
But I want to say I do think, despite how hard this is for me, David Westin is trying to save ABC News from extinction. There are aspects to this that for him, must be devastating.
ON THE AIR: Can a major news operation exist without any bureaus? How do you think the network will cover the next big L.A. story?
ROONEY: I can’t say whether they can really cover the news without bureaus. Local presence is like having listening posts ahead of the front lines. You can’t survive without them. So I don’t think ABC will be without bureaus. They will just operate differently and they will be smaller. We have not seen the blueprint for how they will do it, so I can’t say how they will handle major news, or even minor.
ON THE AIR: We’re all trying to figure out whether there’s even a future for print journalism. What’s your take on the fate of broadcast journalism? Of network news?
ROONEY: Despite all the hand wringing about the fate of the news business I believe there will be print and television journalism in the future. Who will be doing it, I don’t know. When I grew up PF Flyers were one of the most popular sneakers kids wore. PF Flyers are long gone, but we still have sneakers.
Rooney, by the way, is the son of “60 Minutes” fixture Andy Rooney.