ABC News Devotes Newscasts To `The New Normal'

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The economic crisis isn't over yet, but ABC News is concentrating some reporting on what life will be like when it is.

A network-wide series of reports next week on "The New Normal" will look at how businesses and personal habits have changed in the wake of the recession. "World News," "Nightline" and "Good Morning America" will all do stories, culminating in a "20/20" special on June 19.

ABC News President David Westin said the network has held a series of off-the-record meetings with economists, business leaders and regulators over the past year and he was struck by how they all agreed on one point: When the recession is over, things won't go back to the way they were before.

"I was concerned that people in the media hadn't done enough to prepare people for that and we had to start thinking about it," Westin said.

One of ABC's reports, for example, will examine how the real estate downturn has reversed trends toward more Americans owning homes, and homes becoming larger. "Good Morning America" will follow a couple with its income dramatically reduced to give advice on how to cope.

Wal-Mart has given ABC access to its own examples of how consumer spending habits have changed, the network will look at how charities are coping and another report shows the increase in homeless people who live in hotels.

ABC also travels to Iceland for a report on that country's shattered economy.

It's becoming a minitrend: network news divisions that intensely focus on one story to draw attention to it. ABC has done it in the past on health care and Iraq society. In April, CBS News got a strong reaction to its reports on how the economic crisis was affecting children. It's a way to step back and gain some perspective, Westin said.

"It is a symbol to say that this is an important issue, not just an urgent issue, because too often the urgent drives out the important in all of our lives," Westin said.

Too often there's a tendency, particularly with cable news and business channels, to cover news like a box score each day. (Are stock prices going up or down?)

ABC's rivals at NBC have arguably benefited over the past year with the economic story coming to the fore because of its association with CNBC. That network's reporters and anchors often appear on NBC's "Nightly News" and "Today." Viewership for "Nightly News" has gone up during the past year, while ABC's "World News" has gone down.

In a story like this, however, there could be some advantages to not having such a cable news association if ABC uses them properly, Westin said.

"We have to take advantage of not having to be on live 24 hours a day, which allows our people to take some time and do some reporting, do some writing, do some editing," he said. "If we do it well, we can provide a different form of news reporting."

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