After 13 years as president of ABC News, David Westin announced Monday in an email to his staff that he would be leaving the network at year's end. Westin, who succeeded Roone Arledge in 1997, was the longest tenured network-news chief, weathering crises that included the death of Peter Jennings and the injury to successor Bob Woodruff in Iraq. In recent years, he also oversaw layoffs of 25 percent of the ABC News staff in an attempt to make the division more profitable. Here's what people are saying about Westin's tenure and departure, and the impact both are likely to have on the future of network news.
Differing Accounts The New York Times' Bill Carter broke the story last night, and he says there are conflicting reports as to whether Westin was forced out. While one ABC staffer indicated the decision was the result of "a long-running conflict between Mr. Westin and the management of the network, including ABC’s parent company, Walt Disney over the financial standing of the news division" other intelligence from inside the network indicates "financial pressures over news costs had not been a factor in Mr. Westin’s decision" and the news division had been "consistently profitable" with Westin at the helm.
Disney Dictated Disney CEO Bob Iger was the driving force behind the change, contend The Daily Beast's Peter Lauria and Lloyd Grove. Iger, write Lauria and Grove, has "been growing tired of ABC’s performance for a long time, and just as he expressed his displeasure with Disney’s movie studio by ousting longtime boss Dick Cook and most of his staff, he’s now remaking the broadcasting network" without Westin. Based on Iger's recent "perform-or-perish warning" to the network at a Disney shareholder meeting, Lauria and Grove argue the CEO "may not even be convinced that Disney needs ABC at all."
Partner Up The announcement is the latest harsh financial reality to hit ABC News, notes Joe Flint in The Los Angeles Times. During his last year on the job, writes Flint, Westin, "probably spent as much time having to figure out how to cut costs as he has on how to best cover the world." It's the byproduct of ABC not having a cable arm to rely on. Flint expects the news to "jump-start speculation that ABC will try to find a partner such as CNN or Bloomberg to help it shoulder the costs of maintaining a news division."
Bigger Problems The job description for running a network news division has fundamentally changed, writes Time's James Poniewozik. "The person who would do a job like Westin's today has to accept the none-too-exciting assignment of managing decline," notes Poniewozik. With all facets of network programming struggling to produce revenue, "the imperative to turn a profit on the news division—once an afterthought, if not a non-thought, at the big networks—is ever greater." Westin's replacement--whoever that may be--is going to preside over a smaller news shop.