There’s an opening at the top at ABC News. David Westin announced that he will step down as President at the end of this year. “I’ve always admired those few who know when it’s time to move on,” he told staffers in an email.
It was not immediately obvious who his successor might be. Anne Sweeney, co-chair, Disney Media Networks, and President, Disney/ABC Television Group, said she would announce Westin’s successor “in the near future.”
Westin was an unusual choice when he got the post 13 years ago. A lawyer by profession, rather than a journalist, he had been general counsel for ABC News and then headed a production unit before succeeding the legendary Roone Arledge as head of the news division.
Here is the email that Westin sent to ABC News staffers on Monday (9/6):
A month ago I told [Walt Disney Company CEO] Bob Iger and Anne Sweeney that the time has come for me to step down as President of ABC News. Leading you has been a great privilege and a solemn responsibility — a responsibility that I tried to fulfill for over thirteen years by doing what I believed was best for this important news organization. I will root for your continued success long after I am gone.
I’ve always admired those few who know when it’s time to move on. This is the right time for me. Over the last nine months, we’ve put in place new anchors on all of our programs. At the same time, we went through a very difficult transformation made necessary by changes in our business and its economics. I am confident ABC News is better positioned for the future than it has been at any time since I came here in March of 1997.
As rewarding as I’ve found my time here, there are some other things I want to do professionally — things that I cannot explore while fulfilling my responsibilities here. I’m announcing my decision now so that I can pursue those possibilities, something I couldn’t do in fairness to all of you until I’d told you of my plans to step down. I have agreed to remain your leader through the end of the year to ensure that Anne has the time she needs to find the right successor and that
there is an orderly transition. So, I’m not going anywhere for the time being. I will need your support during this interim period to make sure that we continue to move forward.
I have only the highest regard for the company of which we are a part, for its leadership, and most important for all of you. I am grateful for your letting me be part of this great organization for so long.
In her own email, Sweeney praised Westin. “For the past 13 years, David proved himself a tireless advocate for ABC News, effectively guiding the group through some of the most seismic industry, and divisional, changes imaginable. During that time, he helped reinvent our News organization, and positioned us for great success going forward. While it will be sad to see David leave, his desire to pursue other professional endeavors is understandable, and commendable, and I know you¹ll join me in wishing him nothing but the best,” she said. “I’ll be announcing a new leader for ABC News in the near future,” she added.
RBR-TVBR observation: This year’s staff cutting had to be painful for Westin, although he was hardly alone among news executives in having to make such reductions. His successor will face immediate pressures to improve profitability for the news division, so while many will no doubt seek the position, it will hardly be a cushy corner office job.