ABC Affiliates Surprised at Westin Departure

GMs give ABC News chief props, say life goes on
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ABC affiliates were largely surprised to hear that David Westin would be leaving his post as president of ABC News.

Many managers at ABC-affiliated stations, which of course rely on the network for Good Morning America, ABC World News and Nightline, among other programs, give Westin high marks for his work in the news division.

"David was with us a long time and I really liked his work," says Janice Todd, VP/general manager of Scripps-owned KNXV Phoenix. "He had a good relationship with affiliates."

ABC affiliates board chairman Bill Hoffman said the board enjoyed a very strong relationship with Westin. "He protected the news brand so very carefully on his watch," says Hoffman. "There was adversity to go through with talent succession planning and he managed that challenging time very competently. He was aggressive in news gathering and always vigilant with the 'big gets.' David was honorable and direct in all of his dealings with the board. He was universally respected and we will miss his news instincts and leadership."

Westin has held the president title at ABC News for almost 14 years. He's presiding over a news outfit that's downsized staff 25% of late. Anne Sweeney, president, Disney-ABC Television Group, called Westin a "tireless advocate" for the division.

Amidst all the tumult, affiliates say Westin did a smooth job of transitioning Diane Sawyer to evenings and slotting George Stephanopoulos into the GMA host role--and keeping ABC in the hunt amidst the powerhouse news properties at NBC. "We're a strong ABC affiliate," says Sarah Smith, president and general manager of Hearst TV's KETV Omaha. "The ABC News product performs very well here."

Westin will leave at the end of the year. His announcement, shared via a memo to staffers last night, comes about six weeks after ABC's former entertainment president Steve McPherson's abrupt departure from the network.

Affiliate managers, tied up in budget meetings and on the cusp of the fall debuts, typically did not seem to think a change atop network news would affect their local operations all that much. While a pair of high-level departures in the span of six weeks might signal unrest in the house of Disney, affiliates were quick to note that the two situations are not related.

Much as they did regarding McPherson's exit last month, affiliates express optimism that ABC network brass will find the right replacement to run news. "I think Westin is a smart guy and have a high opinion of him," says WSIL Paducah President/General Manager Steve Wheeler. "[But] I'm sure they'll replace him with someone capable."

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