Diane Sawyer will step away from her lead anchor role at ABC’s “World News” to tackle a series of enterprise projects while George Stephanopoulos and David Muir will assume her responsibilities, the first as lead anchor on all special reports and breaking news and the second, starting September 2, as anchor and managing editor of the network’s flagship evening-news broadcast.
In a note to staffers, Ben Sherwood, the former ABC News chief who is set to take sole oversight of Disney’s non-sports TV assets, portrayed the shift as driven by Sawyer’s desire to spend more time focused on original reporting that may not always be driven by daily headlines. Sawyer approached Sherwood at the end of 2013, said ABC News President James Goldston in a statement.
The switch comes as ABC News has been trying to extend its ratings success with its morning program, “Good Morning America,” to its evening newscast. While NBC’s “Nightly News” with Brian Williams continues quite handily as the nation’s most-watched newscast, ABC’s “World News” has made strides in the demographic most coveted by advertisers in news programming, viewers between the ages of 25 and 54.
The decision to split the network’s anchoring duties between Stephanopoulos and Muir is an unorthodox one. For decades, the big broadcast-network news machines have typically relied on a single operative to deliver the most important news of mass interest to audiences. As more potential viewers glean their headlines from digital and social media, however, there appears to be a shift in thinking emerging: giving a top news anchor more opportunity to deliver singular stories over which a news division can have more ownership and exclusivity – and, no surprise, use as a tool to hook viewers.
The move will also allow ABC News to keep Stephanopoulos in key positions where he seems to be needed. The former White House operative is one of the lead anchors of “Good Morning America,” which, even though it has unseated NBC’s “Today” from the first-place spot in the ratings, remains in a pitched battle with that show. Stephanopoulos also hosts ABC’s Sunday public-affairs program, “This Week.”
Stephanopoulos will also lead ABC News’ election coverage, Goldston said, starting with coverage of mid-term elections in the fall.
Muir has long been seen as Sawyer’s eventual successor on “World News.” He has anchored many of ABC News’ breaking-news special reports in recent months, and has reported from places ranging from Somalia to Iran. Muir will continue to anchor primetime newsmagazine “20/20″ with Elizabeth Vargas, and, in a sign he may continue to hold forth on breaking-news events, Goldston said, “will play a key role in covering the biggest breaking news events as they happen.”
(Pictured: David Muir, George Stephanopoulos, Diane Sawyer and James Goldston)
Below, ABC News President James Goldston’s memo about the changes:
Note from ABC News President James Goldston
Over the last few weeks we’ve celebrated some terrific milestones – number one in the May sweep across the board and earning the highest honors for journalistic excellence in the Edward R. Murrow awards.
Great storytelling and great results start with a team that strives every day to do work of the highest quality.
So I want to share some important and exciting news about three of our anchors who will help lead us to be even better.
At the end of last year Diane Sawyer started a conversation with Ben 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.
As much as she loved leading World News to new heights – with so much important, brilliant and impactful reporting and a number one finish in the May sweep – Diane decided that now is the moment to concentrate full time on tackling big issues in new ways.
For many years to come Diane will be a driving force at ABC News with her exceptional storytelling genius. She will create innovative television specials and events, and, of course, continue to conduct the biggest interviews with the most important and extraordinary people in the world. Starting this summer she will begin to develop these new stories, working closely with me, David Sloan, Almin Karamehmedovic, Jeanmarie Condon, Claire Weinraub and Michael Corn. And, of course, Ben will continue to be a part of this creative process as Diane’s long time editorial partner.
Diane’s incredible work on Hidden America and her masterful interviews with Gabby Giffords, Malala Yousafzai and recently Hillary Clinton bring great distinction to the entire news division. Her curiosity, passion and energy inspire us all. Diane is one of the giants of modern journalism, and we can’t wait to see where she’ll lead us next.
I’m also very pleased to announce that George Stephanopoulos will take on a new and vital responsibility for our organization in the new role as Chief Anchor of ABC News.
In this position, George will be our lead anchor for major special events and breaking news at ABC, driving our live network coverage for the biggest stories. From the retirement of Pope Benedict to the manhunt for the Boston bomber, George skillfully navigates uncertain and unfolding situations while synthesizing the latest reporting for our viewers. George is adept at balancing both complex global and public policy questions and deeply personal stories in interviews with numerous luminaries from Vladimir Putin to Angelina Jolie.
George brings to all our programs his tremendous intellect, competitive drive, unwavering work ethic and a laser-like focus that have played an essential role in our recent success, driving Good Morning America forward to #1 and leading This Week into its best competitive position in a generation. He will continue to anchor both shows as he assumes this new and critical leadership role.
And there is simply no better political journalist on television today. That is why George will once again lead our election coverage starting with the mid-terms this Fall and onwards to the 2016 presidential race and beyond.
The news division could not be in stronger hands with George in his new role.
Then starting September 2, David Muir will become the Anchor and Managing Editor of our flagship broadcast, World News.
For more than a decade, David has been front and center reporting on the biggest stories of our time, helping drive us forward with tireless dedication, hard work and good humor. From Katrina to Egypt’s Tahrir Square, from Fukushima to Newtown, David has carefully guided our viewers through tragedy and world events with his tough questions and trademark compassion. He was the first American journalist to report from Mogadishu, Somalia on the worst famine of a generation and recently took our viewers into Iran, getting rare access to the streets of Tehran.
David’s “Made in America” series has become a hallmark of World News, showing just how impactful our work can be as he champions small town triumphs and companies creating jobs. David has made his reputation reporting from the ground on every big story of recent times, and we know that when the big stories happen, wherever they happen, David will be there for us and our audience.
Over the years David has brought our viewers numerous newsmaker interviews and he’ll continue to do so. From the campaign trail with presidential candidate Mitt Romney to First Lady Michelle Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Apple CEO Tim Cook among many others, his interviews generate headlines well beyond ABC News.
David will also continue to anchor 20/20 with Elizabeth Vargas and will play a key role in covering the biggest breaking news events as they happen.
I could not be more thrilled that he is taking the helm at World News.
Diane, George and David are all singular talents, one-of-a kind journalists, gifted storytellers and uniquely skilled broadcasters who inspire us, every day, to do our very best work.
Which simply means they fit in quite nicely here at ABC News, because we have the best team in the business. With these three and Robin Roberts – the heart of our organization – and all of you leading us forward, I am confident there are many great days and much great work ahead.
Please join me in congratulating Diane, George and David on their exciting new roles.