ABC News Expands with One-Man Bureaus

At a time of intense belt-tightening at media companies -- and several months into a two-year cost-cutting restructure at ABC News -- the network is expanding its foreign news presence on the cheap.

ABC will dispatch seven reporters armed with laptops and DV cameras to New Delhi and Mumbai, India; Seoul, South Korea; Jakarta, Indonesia; Rio de Janeiro; Dubai; and Nairobi, Kenya.

They’ll work closely with ABC’s London bureau and ABC News partners including the British Broadcasting Corp. and AP Television News.

While ABC News is billing the deployment as the “largest expansion … of foreign bureaus in two decades,” the reporters will essentially be “bureaus” of one.

The reporters will be able to shoot, edit and send their stories from the field via broadband or, if situations warrant, via portable satellite. Most of their work will appear on and ABC News Now, the network’s broadband channel and hopefully, on flagship broadcasts including World News, Nightline and Good Morning America.

All of the reporters were culled from inside ABC News. Margaret Conley, who will be based in Jakarta, was a coordinator at GMA. Sonia Gallego joined ABC’s London bureau as a production associate in 1999. And Karen Russo, who will be based in Mumbai, was a field producer for Nightline.

“I think it’s great that a news division in these times can expand its news operation around the world in this way,” said Marcus Wilford, ABC’s London-bureau chief, who was instrumental in planning and implementing the new bureaus.

A 20-year veteran of ABC News, Wilford has weathered the technological and market changes of television news.

“When I came here, the Paris bureau was a great big grand apartment in a building overlooking the Eiffel Tower,” he said. “It had a cook. It had drivers. It had three crews, three producers, two correspondents. It was unsustainable. We closed a lot of other bureaus. I think that was a train that had to stop if we were going to retain our credibility.”

Streamlining foreign newsgathering operations was a financial imperative. But as the media business endures painful growing pains, it's easy to take the cynical view.

“I think that the subliminal message is, ‘Oh, here’s ABC News sending these young kids out on the cheap,’” he added. “And I think there’s a lot more thought and effort and experience here. I think these [correspondents] are perhaps not as green and as young as you think.”