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ABC names an overseer to bolster news efforts

May 13, 2003|Elizabeth Jensen | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — After criticism that it had been too slow in responding to breaking news, including the start of war with Iraq, ABC News on Monday promoted Paul Slavin, the executive producer of "World News Tonight," to a management position overseeing newsgathering.

The move by ABC News President David Westin comes before this week's ABC affiliates meeting in New York, where Westin is expected to be grilled by affiliate executives unhappy over the network's recent track record covering breaking news.

ABC News trailed other networks with its coverage of the February Columbia shuttle breakup. More significant to the affiliates, ABC News personnel, including anchor Peter Jennings, were caught out of place the first night of the Iraq war, trailing other networks in announcing the widely expected news by 10 minutes. Some stations, such as WABC in New York, didn't wait for ABC News and broke into ABC's entertainment programming to announce that hostilities had started.

Later that night, a major communications mix-up, for which ABC News took the blame, left many affiliates without late local newscasts just as viewers were searching for news on the bombing.

The problems came at a crucial time for the future of network news, which is increasingly losing viewers to the three cable news networks, whose audience levels soared during the war. ABC News earlier this year had been exploring a merger with one cable network, CNN, but the talks collapsed.

Slavin, whose title will be senior vice president, called his new job "tailor-made" to deal with the affiliates' concerns. Because of changes that have already been made, he said, "I don't think either of those things would happen again." Nonetheless, he said, other "structural changes" can be made.

"I've been detailed to make substantial changes in the way ABC does its newsgathering, to create a newsgathering organization which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Slavin, who is 46 and has been at ABC News since 1979. His responsibilities will include oversight of ABC Radio and the division's Internet news operations, as well as NewsOne, ABC's affiliate news service.

The network hasn't yet decided who will replace Slavin at "World News Tonight."

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