ABC News President to Step Down

David Westin will step down as president of ABC News after more than 13 years at the helm of the network news operation.

In a memo to staff Monday evening, he said he has agreed to remain the division’s leader through year’s end to ensure an orderly transition but is looking for another professional challenge. Westin’s departure comes at a fraught time for network news operations, with CBS exploring some type of deal with CNN and the Katie Couric experiment seemingly winding to a close. There also has been speculation that Disney might look to sell ABC. An ABC executive denied there’s a pending deal with Bloomberg News to purchase or merge news operations.

ABC didn’t immediately name a replacement for the longest-serving head of a broadcast network news division. Sources said the network will look internally — traditionally a preferred recruitment path for the news division — and externally — a path that other Disney units have taken in recent top executive decisions — and hopes to name a successor soon.

Westin announced his decision, first reported by the New York Times, to staffers as the long Labor Day weekend drew to a close.

He said he told his bosses — Disney CEO Robert Iger and Disney-ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney — about his departure plan a month ago.

Westin’s memo didn’t tell ABC News staff what will be next for him, but the Wall Street Journal said he may follow an interest in writing and public speaking.

“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,” he said. Westin also emphasized that he felt it was the right time for him to leave.

The memo highlighted new anchors put in place at ABC News on key programs during the past nine months, while continuing to control costs. Westin also said he would root for the division’s continued success.

ABC News consistently has trailed NBC News in the key morning and evening broadcast ratings.

A memo from Sweeney said Westin “proved himself a tireless advocate for ABC News, effectively guiding the group through some of the most seismic industry and divisional changes imaginable.” She added that “his desire to pursue other professional endeavors is understandable and commendable.”

Anne Sweeney’s e-mail:

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 you’ll join me in wishing him nothing but the best. I’ll be announcing a new leader for ABC News in the near future.

David Westin’s e-mail:

Dear Colleague,

A month ago I told 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.