Charles Gibson announced that he will step down as anchor of World News at the end of the year. Diane Sawyer will replace him, assuming the anchor chair in January.
Gibson broke the news to the World News staff on Wednesday, Sept. 2.
"It has not been an easy decision to make," Gibson wrote in an e-mail to colleagues. "This has been my professional home for almost 35 years. And I love this news department, and all who work in it, to the depths of my soul."
Gibson took over as anchor of World News in 2006 after much heartbreak and turmoil at ABC News.
The illness and death in August 2005 of veteran anchor Peter Jennings was the first blow to the news division. ABC News president David Westin named the co-anchor team of Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas to replace Jennings. But they were in the job for less than a month when Woodruff was severely injured in Iraq in January 2006. Gibson stepped in to rotate in the anchor chair with Vargas. But later that year, Vargas, pregnant with her second child, announced she would step down, citing her doctor's recommendation that she downsize her work load. Gibson became sole anchor of World News in February 2007.
World News finished 2007 as the top-rated evening news cast, a feat the program had not accomplished in more than ten years. But Nightly News with Brian Williams regained the lead in 2008 and has been the most watched newscast for 46 consecutive weeks (40 weeks among news' target demographic of 25-54-year-olds).
"I would love to say that ABC's loss is NBC's gain, but then they went and appointed Diane Sawyer to replace Charlie Gibson. That doesn't lessen the competition one bit," said Brian Williams in a statement.
Williams, who is in southern California covering the wildfires, added that Gibson has "been the most able competition anyone could ask for. Diane is no different -- a legendary name in our business for decades -- and now we'll have to work every bit as hard every day to put on the best newscast possible."
Sawyer, who was the first full-time female correspondent on 60 Minutes, will become only the second woman to solo anchor an evening newscast. And so she will inevitably be compared to her predecessor, Katie Couric.
In a statement, Couric described Sawyer as "one of the hardest-working people I know and this new assignment is the latest achievement in an already accomplished and illustrious career."
The former Today anchor added: "And as I did, I’m sure she’ll quickly find that she doesn’t miss that early morning alarm clock."
In making the announcement to ABC News staff, Westin said that he has been in discussions with Gibson about his decision for "several weeks."
"He has persuaded me that this is both what he wants and what is best for him," wrote Westin.
Gibson, who previously co-anchored Good Morning America, noted the upheaval at the news division.
"It had been my intention to step down from my job at Good Morning America in 2007 but with Peter's illness, Bob's injuries, and Elizabeth's pregnancy, the job at World News came open in May of 2006, and David asked me to step in as anchor," wrote Gibson. "It was an honor to do so. The program is now operating at a very accelerated, but steady, cruising speed, and I think it is an opportune time for a transition - both for the broadcast and for me."
Left unresolved is what will happen to GMA without Sawyer, its linchpin and longest serving current anchor.
Westin said a decision about GMA will come in the "next four months."
"Diane's presence will certainly be missed on Good Morning America," wrote Westin. "But we are fortunate that both Charlie and Diane will remain with their current broadcasts for the next four months; we will be making further announcements well before any changes are made."