“It’s a really tough decision,” Goldston wrote in a memo to colleagues. “I’ve loved every day of my 17 years at ABC News, but in recent times I’ve always assumed that after this extraordinary election cycle, which we’ve covered at a full sprint for four years, it would be time for a change.”
He added: “After a great deal of reflection over the last few months, I’m ready for a new adventure.”
Goldston didn’t signal whether he was leaving the news business altogether. His departure comes as several other newsrooms are seeking new bosses.
Earlier this week, Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron announced his retirement. Searches for new leadership are also underway at the Los Angeles Times, Reuters, HuffPost, Vox, Wired and the Center for Public Integrity.
Some of ABC’s rival networks are also in the midst of reorganization or are preparing for the possibility of major changes. NBC restructured its news and entertainment divisions last year, when it also announced the departure of Andy Lack as chairman for NBC News and MSNBC. Rashida Jones will take over as MSNBC’s new president next week, following the departure of 12-year president Phil Griffin.
Meanwhile rumors have long swirled about management turnover at CBS News, as well as the looming retirement of New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet.
Goldston led ABC News during a period when its flagship shows “Good Morning America” and “World News Tonight” regularly bested competitors in the ratings war. He also oversaw the network’s acquisition of the politics and sports analysis website FiveThirtyEight, and the transformation of “The View” into an important campaign stop for national politicians.
As president he also elevated a 40-year-old David Muir to the anchor chair of “World News Tonight” after Diane Sawyer’s departure in 2014. Muir closed out 2020 averaging nearly 10 million viewers a night — far more than rival shows that attract more Internet buzz.
“Some people will tell you the ratings don’t matter — never believe them, they do,” Goldston wrote in his memo Thursday.
His departure comes six months after a scandal in the network’s top ranks, in which a senior ABC News executive left the company following an internal investigation that concluded she had made “racially insensitive” comments.
Peter Rice, chairman of general entertainment content for ABC’s parent company Walt Disney, called Goldston “a calming force in the chaos of perpetual news, remaining both thoughtful and strategic while also maintaining his much appreciated wit.”
“Maintaining journalistic excellence and integrity amidst a pandemic upheaval, social injustice reckoning, political divide and historic election is an exceptional accomplishment and I commend James for guiding the team through it with distinction,” Rice wrote in a memo.
Rice added that he was establishing a committee composed of several ABC News executives that will function as the network’s “Office of the President” until a new chief is named.
Sarah Ellison contributed to this report.