ABC News President David Westin says that news organizations
can't invoke the First Amendment unless they have "reporters out in the
field doing the work that needs to be done and we have the resources to support
And while ABC has announced major cuts and a restructuring
of its news operation, he said news organizations needed to be committed to
investigative journalism, beat reporting and long-form documentaries. He got a
second on that sentiment from another network news president in attendance.
Westin was speaking to a room full of journalists after
receiving the Radio-Television Digital News Foundation's First Amendment Leadership
The speech came a week after ABC announced deep staff cuts
in a remake of their news operation, and on the eve of a scheduled meeting with
staffers in the ABC Washington bureau March 5 to talk about that remake.
"As we gather here tonight, I can see no greater
challenge to the First Amendment than the threats that are being faced by so
many of our news organizations...threats to their ability to have the
wherewithal to employ reporters and support them with the resources that they
He said those risks may be the greatest since the First
Amendment was adopted in 1791. "We've seen some of our best news
organizations face cuts, and sometimes wave after wave of cuts."
He said it was against that backdrop and with questions
being asked about whether some big news organizations can survive at all, he
announced a "major transformation" of ABC news.
He conceded that a "fair amount" of the analysis
that went into that decision was about "how we could bring our costs into
alignment with the revenues that we could expect over the next several
But he said it could not just be about the bottom line.
"If we leave it at that," he said, "if we make this just about
revenues, and costs and operating income then we have missed the larger and
much more important point."
Westin said the point is that, while the news business has
to change, "we must be very careful in choosing which changes to make to
insure that we will always be able to tell the truth to the American people
about the things that matter to them."
He said that meant more than simply reading wire copy or
having a TV reporter standing next to a dozen other TV reporters saying the
same thing, or airing video that everyone has already seen on broadcast or
cable or the Internet.
Westin committed to enterprise journalism and investigative
teams that have the "time and resources" to investigate the truth
about people in power. And he said beat reporters would continue to be
important to "sort through all that chaff to find the kernel of truth that
no one else can find." He also said that
the First Amendment requires long-form documentaries.
NBC News President Steve Capus had Westin's back. Capus,
there to present the Len Zeidenberg First Amendment award to Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, said
he wanted to give a "vote of confidence" to Westin, who he said had
"spoken beautifully about the struggle to meet corporate-mandated budget
He said Westin's vision showed he had the right priorities.
"We've all been there and I want you to know, David, that we all support
you and are with you on this."
While Westin talked about the risks of an uncertain economic
model, there was a more compelling example on hand of the inherent risks in
defending the people's right to know.
Harvey Nagler, VP of CBS Radio and the First Amendment
Service Award recipient had to hold back tears as he asked CBS Radio reporter
Cami McCormick, injured while covering the war in Afghanistan, to stand and be
recognized. He said that after months of surgery's and therapy, she was almost
ready to return to work.