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Arledge Changing Jobs at ABC News

March 07, 1997|JANE HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — After 20 years as president of ABC News, Roone Arledge will assume the new title of chairman of the network's news division. Arledge's successor as ABC News president will be David Westin, the 44-year-old president of the ABC Television Network Group.

The 65-year-old Arledge developed ABC's "Nightline" and "PrimeTime Live" and built ABC News into the top-rated network news operation, with a stable of news stars from Peter Jennings to Diane Sawyer.

But with ABC's ratings down and no successor for Arledge, ABC executives are said to have moved this week to have Arledge exercise an upcoming option in his contract that allows ABC to name him news chairman in June.

In recent weeks, "NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw" has been beating ABC's "World News Tonight," and ABC's "Good Morning, America" continues to trail NBC's "Today" show. At the same time, ABC News has lost several high-profile lawsuits, including a $5.5-million judgment against "PrimeTime Live" over an undercover investigation into the Food Lion supermarket chain.

Westin--who has overseen ABC News and has a good relationship with Arledge and others in the news division--was the choice of ABC President Robert Iger to succeed Arledge in the job.

"Roone is a great creative talent, but there was a feeling that we needed to bring in someone new to help solve the problems at ABC News--and expand into new business areas such as the Internet," one ABC executive said.

In interviews Thursday, Arledge and Westin said they will run ABC News together. "We're going to be a partnership," Arledge said.

"Roone is running the news division--I report to him, and I have a fair amount to learn," Westin said.

Though Arledge is expected to continue making decisions about news programming, sources said Westin eventually will be making the day-to-day decisions at ABC News.

Paul Friedman, executive vice president of ABC News, will work with Arledge and Westin in running ABC News, the network said. But his future role there remains unclear.

Westin, who joined Capital Cities/ABC as corporate counsel in 1991, recently defended ABC News on the air during a "PrimeTime Live" program about the Food Lion case. He was head of production for ABC's in-house production unit before being named president of the network in 1994.

"Roone has been terrific, for ABC News and for me," ABC anchor Sam Donaldson said. "But if there has to be a transition, David Westin is qualified to bring us into the future."

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