Wednesday, February 24, 2010

668 Here We Go Again

668 Here We Go Again

Last October (Wessay #609 10/9/09) this space was occupied by news of huge cutbacks at ABC Radio News. Soon afterward (#663 12/4/09) NBComcast sent David Sarnoff whirling in his grave. Today, we have new cutbacks and new whirling. Again the management assisted suicide comes at ABC -- this time at the television network. And the guy rotating underground is Roone Arledge who turned that operation from a stodgy, hidebound throwback to days before it even existed into a bright, fast moving, intelligent and well balanced news division that in many ways was the envy of its peers.

Arledge used his sports broadcast background to bring both shine and substance to what then was the third ranked network.

Now, his successor, David Westin, has declared a "fundamental transformation" in the Disney owned news division. "Fundamental transformation?" Yes, a transformation from a major force in journalism to a plea to the movie and theme park bosses in Hollywood, Anaheim and Orlando to "please, master, spare my life!."

Fundamental transformation is the Westinism for huge staff cuts. Three to four hundred employees. Twenty five per cent of the work force. Yeah. That's pretty fundamental, alright. Westin told spouted the usual aphorisms: competition from cable, the internet, etc for his share of the decline in network news viewership. And let's not forget that people don't get home early enough to habituate the 6:30 shows any more.

But what about content, Dave, babes? Could that have anything to do with the decline? What's on your shows these days?

NBC seems to be doing just fine using the traditional model of telling people the basics of what went on that day, combined with some interesting (and sometimes meaningless) features.

Some of Westin's moves make sense and other networks have implemented them for the longest time: combine the staffs of the weekday and weekend morning and evening staffs. And there are some innovations that will no doubt be adopted by competitors: combining producers and camera operators and editors into one body, for example. This is following the cheap local cable operations into showing stuff but avoiding the fuss, muss and bother of actual reporting. Who has time to "report" when you're busy setting up camera angles?

The saddest part of Westin's moves is his assertion that the view won't notice the difference. And about that, he's right. The network news in general and ABC news in particular has become so dumbed down in recent years that they'll take whatever is offered.

Dave, babes is a lawyer, not a news guy, even though he's headed ABC News for more than a dozen years. In a profile, New York Magazine described him as "...among the canniest politicians in the long, intrigue-filled history..." of his division. Lawyers and politicians (even if just office politicians) have no place in a newsroom. Especially not a great newsroom, which ABC is.


--Cheney was said to be resting comfortably in a hospital after his most recent heart problem. Just what does that mean? Is it that he's drugged to the point where nothing bothers him? Or does it mean he just hasn't died yet?

--How do you teach instinct? That's one of the questions raised in the passing of the local talk show to a new host and focuses specifically on the selection of stories for the sponsored daily Wall Street report. After you do it for a million years, you just know which stories will fly and which won't -- and how do you put that in a job description?

--Ferlin Husky finally got into the Country Music Hall of Fame and it's about time, since he's 84 and at one time was one of the best selling artists in any field of music. Asked about being bypassed for 40 years, Husky used to say "I guess I'm not country enough." Yeah you are and congrats to you and the other inductees, Jimmy Dean, Don Williams and Billy Sherrill.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010

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