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ABC news chief David Westin will leave network at year's end

By Howard Kurtz
Monday, September 6, 2010; 9:40 PM

David Westin, the longest-serving network news chief, announced Monday night that he is resigning as president of ABC News after a tough year that included anchor changes on every broadcast and cutting a quarter of the staff.

Thirteen years after he succeeded Roone Arledge, Westin, 58, felt he was ready to move on to another career and told Bob Iger, chief executive of Disney, the network's parent company, that he wanted to wrap up his tenure. Westin will stay on the job until year's end to give Disney time to find a successor.

"I've always admired those few who know when it's time to move on," Westin said in a letter to the staff. "This is the right time for me."

In a series of personnel decisions that tumbled like dominos, Westin named Diane Sawyer as the anchor of "World News"; installed George Stephanopoulos in her old job as co-host of "Good Morning America"; brought in Christiane Amanpour for the Sunday program "This Week"; sent Chris Cuomo from "GMA" to "20/20," and put Bill Weir on "Nightline," replacing Martin Bashir.

"Leading you has been a great privilege and a solemn responsibility -- a responsibility that I tried to fulfill for over 13 years by doing what I believed was best for this important news organization," Westin told the staff.

At the same time, he wrote, "there are some other things I want to do professionally -- things that I cannot explore while fulfilling my responsibilities here." Westin is said to be thinking of doing some writing and speaking; he had to kill a proposed op-ed piece on the Supreme Court after his advisers told him it was too opinionated for a network news leader.

In a note to the staff, ABC President Anne Sweeney said that "David proved himself a tireless advocate for ABC News, effectively guiding the group through some of the most seismic industry, and divisional, changes imaginable" and "helped reinvent our news organization." She said she will announce a successor "in the near future."

Westin had to deal with a number of calamities during his tenure. After Peter Jennings died in 2005, Westin tapped Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas for "World News," but he was badly injured in Iraq and she became pregnant. Westin moved Vargas to "20/20" in favor of Charlie Gibson. He also had to manage the "Nightline" transition from Ted Koppel, who helped found the broadcast in 1979, to a three-anchor team.

But the layoffs -- which Westin called "a very difficult transformation made necessary by changes in our business and its economics" -- were perhaps the most wrenching set of decisions, as many veteran correspondents and producers were cut loose in an effort to shrink the network's costs.

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