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Diane Sawyer to step down from ‘ABC World News;’ David Muir will take over

David Muir, Diane Sawyer, George Stephanopoulos and ABC News president James Goldston at this morning’s announcement. (Heidi Gutman/ABC)

Diane Sawyer will step down from “ABC World News” this year, ABC announced on Friday morning. “20/20” anchor David Muir, who hosts the weekend edition, will take over on Sept. 2.

Also in ABC News staffing changes: “Good Morning America” co-host and “This Week” anchor George Stephanopoulos isn’t going anywhere. In fact, he’s been named Chief Anchor of ABC News. According to a memo sent out this morning, that means Stephanopoulos will be “lead anchor for major special events and breaking news at ABC, driving our live network coverage for the biggest stories.”

Sawyer, who has worked for ABC News for nearly 25 years, has been behind the evening news desk of “World News” since 2009. She succeeded Charles Gibson; Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff co-anchored before he took over. Peter Jennings hosted the show for two decades until 2005.

“At the end of last year Diane Sawyer started a conversation with [former ABC News president Ben Sherwood] about one day stepping away from ‘World News’ and devoting her boundless energy full time to a team which will create and commission original reporting, big ideas and interviews for all platforms,” explained ABC News president James Goldston in an e-mail to staff. “As much as she loved leading ‘World News’ to new heights…Diane decided that now is the moment to concentrate full time on tackling big issues in new ways.”

Goldston added the Sawyer will be a “driving force” at ABC News, creating specials and events, along with conducting big interviews. He cited some of her biggest “gets” in a long list of her most famous interviews, including former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Malala Yousafzai, along with Hillary Clinton this month. “Diane is one of the giants of modern journalism, and we can’t wait to see where she’ll lead us next,” Goldston wrote.

Sawyer, 68, started her career as a broadcaster at a local station in Louisville, Ky., before joining the Richard Nixon administration in the mid-’70s. From there, she transitioned to a reporting job at CBS, where she broke ground and became the first female correspondent of “60 Minutes.”  Sawyer moved over to ABC in 1989, and proceeded to co-anchor “Primetime” before joining “Good Morning America” in 1999, which she co-hosted for a decade.

When Muir, 40, takes over this fall, he will continue to host “20/20” alongside Elizabeth Vargas. He’s served as the “World News” weekend anchor already for the past three years and is the chief substitute for Sawyer on weekday broadcasts. Muir joined ABC in 2003 to anchor overnight news program “World News Now,” and soon started traveling to report stories around the world.

Muir now joins Scott Pelley of “CBS Evening News” and Brian Williams of “NBC Nightly News” in the evening news club; it may have a fading viewership, but is still regarded as one of the highest positions of power in TV news.

Meanwhile, Stephanopoulos, 53, will also to have a major role, keeping busy with the recently Emmy-winning “GMA,” along with “This Week” on Sunday morning. Goldston also confirmed that Stephanopoulos will helm all election coverage, starting this fall with the mid-terms.

This is the next in a line of big changes for ABC News: Barbara Walters also retired this year. And though she’s no longer hosting “The View” every day, she’s by no means gone. She’ll be back on “The View” this Friday as a guest, talking about her interview with Peter Rodger, father of Santa Barbara shooter Elliot Rodger.

Disney/ABC Television Group Ben Sherwood wrote a memo to staff about all the changes, which is below:

By now you’ve seen the exciting news that James shared about Diane, George and David.
I just want to relay my enthusiasm and support for these big leaps and offer congratulations to all.
Over time, Diane, George and David have each engaged me and James in imagining and charting their respective paths. We are delighted that these new positions reflect our discussions as well as their individual passions, ideals, talents and goals.
Best of all, these new roles will further magnify their ability to do what they love most while advancing the essential mission of ABC News: Empowering our audience to change the future.
I want to acknowledge and celebrate Diane in particular for leading our division to great heights, especially and most recently at World News. Over the years, we have held many far-reaching conversations about work and life, and I know this new role is exactly how she wants to focus her remarkable energy and talent. And I’m excited to watch her elevate all of our programs and platforms with her new ideas, dynamic team, and her signature reporting, interviewing and storytelling.
I also want to salute George and David, consummate and complementary pros who will – as always – make ABC News shine on the biggest, most important stories around the clock and around the world. From moments of triumph to moments of crisis, George and David will guide the way with intelligence, enterprise, understanding and connection.
With these moves, and the incomparable Robin in her vital role as the heart and soul of our organization, I am confident that our best work and biggest scoops are straight ahead.
So here’s to each and every one of you – on air and behind the scenes – for together ensuring that tomorrow will always be even bolder and brighter than today.