ABC News president David Westin expected Tuesday to announce resignation
To be honest, this was a departure some expected years ago.
But ABC News president David Westin's email to colleagues announcing his departure from the network at the year's end instead comes after a period when the network has weathered many significant anchor changes with a fair bit of success.
There was the retirement of Charles Gibson from flagship evening newscast World News Tonight in late 2009, and the relatively quiet installation of Diane Sawyer as the new anchor. Sunday politics host George Stephanopoulos took Sawyer's place on Good Morning America, while Christiane Amanpour was lured from a foriegn correspondent's job at CNN to take over This Week on Sundays weeks ago. Toss in the addition of Bill Weir to Nightline as a replacement for departing anchor Martin Bashir and you have major changes in just about every ABC newscast over the past year or so.
But some of the biggest changes Westin faced came behind the scenes, as the network news division reduced its workforce by 400 positions, or 25 percent, using buyouts and layoffs to merge show staffs and develop "digital journalists" expected to write, report, and record footage for stories all on their own.
Westin got the job 13 years ago, succeeding TV news legend Roone Arledge and inspiring skepticism from those who wondered if a former lawyer could handle runnnig one of television's most star-studded news divisions.
He took flak after the death of lead anchor Peter Jennings from lung cancer, when anchors Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas were hired to serve as an anchor team -- a partnership that didn't last long, as Woodruff was injured by an explosive device in Iraq and Vargas found it difficult to maintain the show's ratings alone.
Critics also wondered about the decision to replace venerated nightline anchor Ted Koppel with a three-person team of anchors who would split the show into two or three stories each night. But the approach yielded higher and younger ratings. And ABC's lack of stars in the post-Arledge era seemed to be an issue at times, giving few options if Stephanopoulos hadn't agreed to move to GMA or requiring an outside hire to bring star power to This Week in Amanpour.
Perhaps Westin should have taken a page from American Idol star Kara DioGuardi and resigned on Friday before a sleepy three day weekend. As it is, the timing of this announcement is sure to bring more speculation: Is he leaving to avoid having to cut more? Is he being pushed out by higher ups? Is there any connection to the recent surprise resignation of ABC Entertainment chief Steve McPherson?
Let the speculation begin.
Here's the text of his email to colleagues today, courtesy of Broadcasting and Cable:
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.
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.