NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) – ABC News is reducing its full-time presence in Iraq, and will rely more on the BBC for day-to-day reports from inside the country.
The network will continue to have a Baghdad bureau, though there will be no full-time correspondent and fewer employees than there have been since the war began in 2003. Its move comes at a time when the broadcast networks face slimmer budgets and an intensifying war in Afghanistan.
The Iraq War, even with 130,000 U.S. troops remaining there, has fallen mostly off the front pages and top-of-the-evening newscasts. Troop deaths are down and so is the amount of time that the networks have devoted to the story in the election year just past.
“We will have a presence but significantly less than there was before,” an ABC News executive who declined to be identified told The Hollywood Reporter. “This is more of a reallocation of resources so we’re not spending money for a substantial presence on the ground waiting for something to happen.”
ABC News president David Westin announced the change Wednesday in Baghdad in an e-mail to employees obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. He wrote that Iraq will continue to be an important story for ABC News and “we will devote all the resources necessary to do the story justice.”
The deal includes some financial support for the BBC’s coverage, but it wasn’t clear how much. The BBC announced the change to its employees Wednesday afternoon.
ABC News has had a long-term content sharing plan with the BBC, the only U.S. network to do so. The partnership has grown from 1994, when it began having BBC correspondents file stories for the network. The partnership goes both ways, with the BBC providing reports from the Congo last year while ABC helped the BBC with coverage of the presidential election.
The Baghdad bureaus have cost the broadcast networks millions of dollars annually since 2003 with seemingly no end in sight. The networks have had to budget not only for reporting and production teams but also for support staff and heavy security.
Throughout the war, Iraq’s been a deadly place for journalists with, among others, the deaths of two CBS News employees in an IED explosion in May 2006. CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier and ABC News’ Bob Woodruff were severely wounded by explosions.
Consequently, networks have always shared intelligence and security matters in regular conference calls. But efforts to extend that to content sharing, perhaps having one correspondent at a time for the networks in Baghdad, working in a pool arrangement, never came to fruition.
CBS News president Sean McManus said that it wasn’t “an arrangement that made sense for CBS News.” The network also doesn’t have a full-time correspondent in Iraq, though Elizabeth Palmer spent 10 days there before Christmas filing reports. McManus said that having no full-time correspondent there saves a little bit of money but not as much; there is still a CBS News bureau there with employees.
“It wasn’t so much a question of saving some money but being more intelligent in how we use our resources,” McManus said.