ABC News president David Westin is calling it quits.
In an e-mail message, Westin told colleagues late Monday "there are some other things I want to do professionally — things that I can't explore while fulfilling my responsibilities here." He has agreed to remain at ABC News until a successor is named.
While the announcement came suddenly, news industry insiders heard that ABC recently hired an executive search firm to scout out replacements for Westin, who said he told his bosses last month that he wanted out.
Westin has been in charge of ABC News since March 1997 when he took over for the legendary Roone Arledge. The past year has been particularly challenging, as the division has struggled to maintain profitability in the face of declining ratings and increased competition from cable news and the Internet. The network cut 25 percent of the news division's workforce this past year. Newly hired correspondents are being asked to shoot and edit their own packages so that the network can cut back on electronic newsgathering crews.
While those moves have brought costs down, recent changes in front of the camera have not improved ABC's competitive position in the ratings. With Diane Sawyer in the anchor chair, ABC World News remains in second place behind NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. The addition of George Stephanopoulos to Good Morning America has not helped the number two morning program gain ground on NBC's Today.
One possible internal candidate for Westin's successor is Nightline executive producer James Goldston. Under Goldston's supervision, Nightline's ratings have remained steady and its financial performance has improved, silencing talk that the program's time slot would be handed over to the entertainment division.
Westin's departure is also likely to revive speculation over ABC News entering a partnership with Bloomberg LP's business news network. The lack of a 24-hour TV platform has put the news divisions at both ABC and CBS at a disadvantage to NBC, which uses MSNBC to help amortize its newsgathering costs.
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