ABC Now Hiring “Perma-lancers”

Perhaps you’ve noticed the latest trend not only in the American workplace but in the media industry.


Part-time workers to save radio operators money on paying benefits and other expenses that are usually customary to a fully employed work force.

You’ll see a lot of part-time help being employed when the overall economy begins to grow again but I thought you’d be interested in a dirty little trick Disney’s ABC Television has come up with to take this shortsightedness one step further.

David Westin, the ABC news executive whose career may someday be summed up to reflect how he single-handedly presided over the demise of a great and profitable news operation, has a better idea.

Westin has coined the term “perma-lancer” to reflect a new breed of employee degradation.

Here’s how it works.

Inside sources at ABC say Westin’s news operation – you now, the one that just recently mandated a one-third reduction in size – is reportedly interviewing these new “mutates” called “perma-lancers”.

These sources say Westin has told some non-union people that there is plenty of money to hire them for extended periods of time despite what the company has been claiming is the reason for its massive staff reductions.

In effect, “perma-lancers” – the term used to describe the mutation of permanent employees and part-time workers -- should more accurately be called “union-busters”.

A source knowledgeable about how ABC operates and speaking on the condition of anonymity because these plans are thought to be secret and sensitive bristle at the conflict between the truth and what Westin is putting out as PR poppycock.

The ABC News Operations Manual demands adherence to the truth – it’s right there in the first pages – and yet Westin is apparently saying one thing while planning to do the other. Obviously, not taking a page from his own book.

Firings, early retirements, layoffs – to make it seem like the economy is making ABC do it.

Creating this new breed of “perma-lancer” who looks like, acts like, works like a full-timer without any of the benefits or protection from their unions.

As one source put it, this amounts to “Union-busting, lies and a disregard for the truth. But this is, after all, the new fantasy world of Disney, the Magic Kingdom”.

It is all very sad.

ABC is a fantastic news operation and credible news leader.

But it doesn’t follow that you can expect such high standards to be maintained with a portable, expandable, retractable staff of people who exist to avoid paying benefits and breaking union ties.

And, it doesn’t stop there at ABC TV.

No wonder a recent memo (February 17, 2010) from Steve Jones, VP of ABC News Radio forbids entering award competitions.

Let’s dissect Jones’ memo:

“This year, we won’t be submitting any of our excellent work for awards consideration. Our decision was based on three factors:

1. The increasing expense associated with awards submissions.

That’s out-and-out bull. Corporate dinners and waste could easily be redirected to pay these incidental expenses.

2. The significant effort required to compile award entries. (Often, it is a multiple week process of gathering, reviewing and editing audio).

Poor Steve Jones. I don’t hear ABC News people complaining about the extra work. It’s an exercise in pride for them.

3. The difficulty of quantifying the business value of winning awards.

Just great! Business value, my butt! What’s it worth to ABC News to be the recognized leader of something – anything – the key word being “recognized”?

Jones goes on ...

“In this very challenging environment, our time and effort is better spent on delivering the best radio news service we can. And, while awards are nice to win (and we have won many of them), it’s better to know that our affiliates recognize our work as representing the best in broadcast radio journalism.”


Do media people have any stones? Do they have the ability to look in the mirror and see how dumb they look when they talk about representing the best in broadcast journalism in the same paragraph where they take away a credible means of being recognized?

So brace yourself.

The record industry has starved itself to death by cutting vital employees who actually make the labels have a reason to exist – find, develop and market music and artists.

We’ve explained it away by saying the label execs are just hunkering down hiding behind lawyers to stretch out whatever paydays they can still have coming.

Radio companies have relied on voice tracking and repeater radio network or syndicated programming to reduce the need for actual talent in their companies.

Now, with David “Perma-lancer” Westin forging the way at ABC Television News, the equity owners of radio properties can now look no further than a new class of employee that they will love for their affordability if nothing else.

It’s as if an airline created a new class of passenger for its flights – cargo class – where they throw people into the hold below the seating area where luggage is stowed and let them pay 50% off the cheapest ticket.

Apple stock was 218 when it closed Friday.

Apple hires people and innovates.

ABC, equity-owned and debt-ridden radio operators and other cheapskates can’t seem to make get their share price to a couple of dollars a share. They blame the same economy Apple thrives in.

One fully employs and nurtures its employees.

The other under employs and tortures.

If you know this and I know this, why don’t they know this – you ask.

They do.

But they are not looking to be successful for their shareholder investors like Apple. They want to be successful for themselves and that’s the greed upon which radio, records and now television news is hell bent for destruction.

Here’s what Seth Godin said recently in a blog post that had “radio” and “media” written all over it:

“(Andrew) Carnegie apparently said, ‘Take away my people, but leave my factories and soon grass will grow on the factory floors......Take away my factories, but leave my people and soon we will have a new and better factory.’

Is there a typical large corporation working today that still believes this?

Most organizations now have it backwards. The factory, the infrastructure, the systems, the patents, the process, the manual... that's king. In fact, shareholders demand it.

It turns out that success is coming from the atypical organizations, the ones that can get back to embracing irreplaceable people, the linchpins, the ones that make a difference. Anything else can be replicated cheaper by someone else.

It’s not brain surgery.

It’s greed.

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