Westin Out At ABC News Just Months After Massive Job Cuts; The E-Mails

ABC (NYSE: DIS) News President David Westin won’t be around to manage the long-term effects of slashing a quarter of the news division’s jobs amidst a major overhaul. Westin sent a late Labor Day staff e-mail, obtained by paidContent and included below, saying he had told Disney CEO Bob Iger and network head Anne Sweeney a month ago that he was planning to leave but had agreed to stay on through the end of the year. In a separate e-mail, included below, Sweeney said she would announce “a new leader” for ABC News in the near future.

Westin, 58, has headed the news division since 1997. His e-mail went out as the NYT was reporting his resignation, painting it as the result of a “long-running conflict” with Disney execs over the news division’s finances. The rocky relations over finances are no secret and reports that Disney would be willing to sell keep cropping up despite repeated denials.

But Westin also has faced criticism for anchor decisions, including George Stephanopoulos to Good Morning America and raiding CNN for Christiane Amanpour as the new host of This Week, as well as for not being able to leapfrog past NBC (NYSE: GE) News in the ratings. The cuts earlier this year — one-fourth of the staff or about 400 jobs, were supposed to put ABC News on a more stable financial footing while creating a slimmer structure centered more around programs than platforms. At the time, Westin and Disney execs insisted the cuts were his decision; he described the moves in an interview as something “mandated by the circumstances.”

Dave Davis, the exec once thought to be the most likely successor internally, left as EVP of ABC News this summer to return to WABC-TV as president and GM. If Sweeney stays inside for a successor, Paul Slavin, SVP of ABC News Digital since late 2007, could make a short list. But that’s a big “if” — as the LAT points out, Disney’s been on a streak lately when it comes to moving execs between divisions rather than promote from within. There’s also precedent for going to someone without a news background — Westin started at then- Capital Cities/ABC as general counsel.

Westin E-Mail, Sept. 6, 2010

Dear Colleague,

A month ago I told Bob Iger and Anne Sweeney that the time has come for me to step down as President of ABC News. Leading you has been a great privilege and a solemn responsibility — a responsibility that I tried to fulfill for over thirteen years by doing what I believed was best for this important news organization. I will root for your continued success long after I am gone.