ABC establishes one-man foreign bureaus

In a new milestone in broadcast cost cutting, ABC News has chosen seven multimedia-trained reporters to staff one-person foreign news bureaus.

Armed with a new generation of portable digital media tools, the reporters will do the jobs of five or more traditional network specialists. By researching, reporting, writing, shooting video, editing and feeding their own material, the new breed of “bureau chief” will combine the original role of field producer, correspondent, video camera crew (with lights and sound), video editor and field engineer.

The solo bureaus are being opened in Seoul; Rio de Janeiro; Dubai; New Delhi and Mumbai, India; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Nairobi, Kenya. For support, the solo reporters will work with ABC’s international news partners, including the BBC, APTN, NHK and ARD. Additional support will come for the network’s larger bureaus in London, Moscow, Jerusalem, Baghdad and Beijing.

Each reporter’s technology package will compacted to a portable DV camera, a laptop, and —depending on the location — satellite phones or broadband connections. There will be no office — the reporters will work from home.

“Technology now makes it possible for us to have bureaus without a receptionist, three edit suites, and studio cameras and so on," David Westin, ABC News president, told Reuters. “The essence of what we do is reporting, it’s not production. Production is the way you get it on the air and to people, but reporting is the essence.”

That said, agility in multiple skills will be essential. Rather than choose veteran reporters with long experience, the network looked to the youngest members of its staff for the new team. Their work will be featured on and “ABC News Now,” as well as “World News Tonight” and “Good Morning America.”

Though ABC pitched the move as the largest expansion of its foreign news bureaus in two decades, the move was clearly designed to cut operating costs. Reuters reported that ABC’s seven solo bureaus combined will cost about as much as the full-featured Paris bureau did when it was open.