Tyrades! ABC Means "Aarrggh! Budget Cuts!"

Friday, March 5, 2010

"More Americans get their pink slips from ABC News than from any other news source."

That may be the new slogan now that ABC News President David Westin has announced a "fundamental transformation" of his organization. Driven by declining ad revenue and the challenges of the digital age, Westin may eliminate as much as one-quarter of ABC's 1,400-member staff.

Interviewed by the Associated Press, Westin said he feels confident that technological innovations will let the lean, mean reporters do the work of two or three people and go places a traditional crew couldn't go. ("Reporting live in 3D from the cardboard box I live in down by the river...")

How the mighty have fallen! Back in the glory days of 1979, ABC gave us "The Iran Crisis: America Held Hostage." Now it's "Expense Accounts Held Hostage." My inside sources hint that name changes may be in store for programs such as "Good Morning, America," "20/20," and "Nightline." Watch for "I'm Staying The Heck In Bed, America," "Get A Cane And A Guide Dog," and "Flatline."

Westin said he hopes the public won't really notice the cuts. Wishful thinking. I hear that insightful Supreme Court analysis will now be done by Joe Pesci's out-of-work stand-in from "My Cousin Vinnie." We may have to bite our fingernails until at least April of 2011 for ABC to project the winner of the November 2012 election. Science coverage will reportedly take a hit. ("We couldn't afford to send a crew to cover the space shuttle launch, but sponsor Arm & Hammer generously donated this baking soda, which we'll mix with this vinegar and...voila!")

With a scaled-back news operation, can we really depend on getting our quota of breathless, alarming reports? Can we expect freelancers and part-timers to give us a steady supply of "World's Largest Ball of Yarn: A New Choking Hazard?," "What Your Doctor Won't Tell You About The May 1983 Issue Of Good Housekeeping In His Waiting Room," and "The Looming Luxembourg Credit Crisis And You"?

I fear that cutbacks may hamper fact-checking of broadcasts. Of course that concern is pooh-poohed by an ABC spokesperson. ("As Pres. Bob Dole said during his 1997 inauguration, overemphasis on fact-checking is what led the Martians to shrink Australia and put it in a bottle during the Revolutionary War.")

If the displaced workers have to take jobs outside the broadcasting field, it won't be pretty. ("You want liberal bias with your burger?") Could cliché-bound journalists hold a job such as paramedic? ("Arguably, the alleged victim is suffering a heart attack. Arguably, CPR is called for. Arguably, I'm the person best suited to administer it. But at the end of the day, thinking outside the box, only time will tell whether this situation requires intervention. Oops. Time told.")

The situation upsets me, but, despite my fondness for the Howard K. Smith and Harry Reasoner days of ABC News, I must admit that the Tyree household does not currently watch any of the evening network newscasts. My wife the teacher is dissatisfied with the coverage of education issues. ABC could really score points with her if just once a reporter would hit Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke with a hardball question like, "Why don't you educate us about where the best shoe sales are???"

Oops. Signing off from the doghouse, this has been Danny Tyree.

Note: Danny Tyree welcomes e-mail at tyreetyrades@aol.com.