Charlie Gibson On ABC’s New Bureaus: “Those Kids Are Our Eyes And Ears”

By Gail Shister 

Gail Shister
TVNewser Columnist

Just because its new foreign bureaus will be one-man/woman bands doesn’t mean that ABC is doing it on the cheap, says anchor Charlie Gibson.

Unquestionably, a one-person bureau “is a lesser investment” for ABC than a full roster, Gibson says, “but believe me, it’s not being done on the cheap.”

In the largest expansion of ABC’s foreign bureaus in 20 years, seven reporters, all under 40, will be deployed to New Delhi and Mumbai, India; Seoul, South Korea; Jakarta, Indonesia; Rio De Janeiro; Dubai and Nairobi.

What’s keeping costs down is the new technology, Gibson says. With lightweight cameras, videophones and uplink capabilities, reporters will be able to go on the air from anywhere. Quickly, and without techs.

“Given the economics of the business, it’s the greatest expansion we could come up with,” says Gibson, 64, who can barely operate his cell phone.

“Nobody’s been sitting around and saying, ‘How can we do this on the cheap?’ It’s ‘how can we do this is an economically reasonable and affordable way?’ I suspect a lot of people will watch this to see if it works.”

Gibson has no idea if it will, but he calls the experiment “tremendously exciting.” Particularly in an era when news organizations are closing established foreign bureaus, not opening new ones.

“We’re taking seven young people and putting them in various cities around the world and saying, ‘Make it up as you go along,'” he says. “There is no precedent for this, that I know of.”

“We don’t know what we’re going to get, but it gives us a wonderful foothold for [abcnews].com. If something major develops, we’ll send a correspondent from London or Tokyo or Beijing. Until we get there, those kids are our eyes and ears.”

Gibson regrets that he was never stationed overseas in his 32 years at ABC. He says he would have been happy at the old Paris bureau, where Pierre Salinger had a private chef. He’d be equally happy with one of the new posts.

“If somebody had said to me when I was 28, ‘We’ll give you a salary and a lot of equipment and we’ll send you to New Delhi or Nairobi or Seoul, and you figure out how to make it work,’ I would have jumped out of my chair from excitement.”