Skip to main content

TV networks rewrite definition of a news bureau

When CNN announced last week that it would assign journalists to 10 cities across the United States, it sounded like an expansion that would double the number of American cities with a news bureau.

However, in an article in the “New York Times,” it was noted that the term “news bureau” has been redefined in a way that reflects major changes in the way news is reported and aired.

Many of today’s journalists are essentially one-man bands who work from a laptop computer in borrowed office space at local news operations. When a story breaks, they do it all — report, shoot and edit — and then use the Internet to file the story.

Decades of budget cuts have forced the news divisions to reduce their global footprint, shutting bureaus and abandoning the old norm of four-person crews, the “Times” reported. Old-school journalists bemoan the changes as a decline in news operations.

In deciding to drop a jack-of-all-trades journalist in 10 cities — including in Seattle, Las Vegas, Orlando and Raleigh-Durham — CNN is replicating what it and other networks have been doing in foreign cities.

Of course when news happens — as it did last week when fighting broke out between Russia and Georgia — the networks can be caught off-guard. NBC News, for example, no longer stations a full-time correspondent in Russia and instead relies on a producer in Moscow.

Marcus Wilford, vice president for international digital news at ABC, recalled that when he was hired 20 years ago, the news division’s Paris bureau had three camera crews, three producers, two correspondents, drivers, and a chef in a house with a view of the Eiffel Tower. Today the ABC News presence in Paris consists of a lone staff producer.

ABC is considering assigning digital journalists to positions in the United States. NBC has also trained some of its journalists to be one-man bands, even as it downsized some bureaus this year and created a system of hubs where offices in Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York oversee all news coverage of North and South America.

At CNN, the new reporters are called “all-platform journalists.”

Michael Rosenblum, a consultant who has helped television networks adopt the one-man band model, said most television networks can’t afford the bureaus, but they must have the news coverage.

“The easiest way to do it is to hand the journalist a camera, show them the ‘on’ and ‘off’ buttons, and tell them to go to work,” he told the “Times.”