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ABC News transforming its news operations

The old and well-financed ABC News division is soon to be history. In what it called a “fundamental transformation,” ABC News announced last week that it would reduce its staff by up to 25 percent of its 1400 workers.

ABC employees were told that the news division is seeking 300 to 400 buyouts, and will resort to firing workers if necessary. The cuts at ABC, a division of The Walt Disney Company, are among the most radical ever conducted by a network news division.

The cuts, which had been expected for weeks, will dramatically erode the newsgathering ability of ABC News and end the network’s aspirations to be a first rate global news operation. Traditional newsgathering methods will be replaced by “digital journalists” — a euphemism for one-man bands who report, shoot and edit their own stories.

“Everyone sees the reality of the industry, and everyone wants to stay competitive,” said one employee who spoke to the “New York Times” on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized by the network to speak to other media outlets.

In a memo to staffers, ABC News president David Westin said the “transformation” would result in a leaner, smaller news division. “The time has come to rethink how we do what we are doing,” Westin wrote.

In the future, Weston admitted the network would rely more heavily on so-called digital journalists. The network, he said, will “take the example set by the ‘Nightline’ editorial staff who shoot and edit their own material and follow it throughout all of our programs.”

ABC will also combine its weekday and weekend staffs of “Good Morning America” and “World News.” Additionally, newsmagazines like “20/20” will be produced with a “more flexible blend of staff and freelancers so that we can respond to varying demand for hours through the year,” Westin said.

“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,” Weston said.