ABC News, in a major shakeup, announced Tuesday a radical transformation that will result in big staff cuts. "When we are finished, many job descriptions will be different, different skill sets may be required, and, yes, we will likely have substantially fewer people on staff at ABC News," organization president David Westin said in a memo to his staff that the network released to other news media. The cuts, expected to number in the hundreds, will begin with a voluntary buyout offer "in the next few days," Westin said, and go from there to involuntary layoffs.
The changes, Westin said, are prompted by the pressures that are remaking newspapers -- particularly the Internet.
"We can see that our entire society is in the middle of a revolution -- a revolution in the ways that people get their news and information," he wrote in his memo. "The digital age makes our business more competitive than ever before. It also presents us with opportunities we couldn’t have imagined to gather, produce, and distribute the news. We can have great success in the new world -- but only if we embrace what is new, rather than being overwhelmed by it."
Translation: ABC, like other broadcast network news divisions, continues to leak viewers. Though the evening World News show has gotten a bit of bump over the last month both from curiosity about new anchor Diane Sawyer and a lot of news, the eight million or so viewers she's averaging are still just a fraction of the audiences the show once boasted -- and still second to NBC. Meanwhile, ratings at Good Morning America are down 10 percent this season in the key 25-to-54 advertising demographic.
The network is responding by streamlining operations and breaking down territorial barriers in its newsroom. Both World News and Good Morning America will merge their weeknight and weekend staffs. News crews will shrink -- "We will take the example set by Nightline of editorial staff who shoot and edit their own material and follow it throughout all of our programs," Westin noted -- but the staff of ABC's website will grow. "I won’t pretend that all of this will be easy," Westin wrote. "But I do truly believe that it will be good for ABC News."