Analysis: ABC News’ President Search Should Start in Accounting

After 13 years with head-count chopping lawyer at the helm of ABC News, maybe Bob Iger ought to consider hiring an accountant

Wanted: An accountant, preferably with multiplatform savvy.

Position: ABC News president.

Thirteen years ago, Bob Iger, CEO of Disney’s ABC subsidiary, gingerly installed smooth-operating lawyer David Westin as the No. 2 executive of ABC News and ultimately successor to Roone Arledge, the division's entrenched and legendary head.

With Westin’s resignation Sunday night after a reign of retrenchment, Iger, now Disney’s CEO, might want to consider a bean-counter to preside over the ongoing decline of ABC News, the middling brand between NBC News and CBS News in a broadcast-TV segment plagued by decades of shrinking audiences.

According to one high-level insider at ABC News, Iger hasn’t settled on a candidate and can continue his search for months, before Westin’s year-end exit. Meanwhile, the media gossip grapevine is crawling with options—from a potential purchase of all of ABC News by Bloomberg to rumored prospective successors that include Mark Hoffman, CNBC president, and Neal Shapiro, onetime NBC News president and now head of PBS station Thirteen/WNET New York City.  

Iger would do just as well opting for an geeky accountant, given the broadcast news trend at ABC and the industry. Westin, who told the ABC News staff that the decision to leave was his, spent some of what will be his last months making rounds of cuts, including the February announcement of a massive 300- 400-person reduction — about 20 percent to 30 percent of its approximately 1,500-strong worldwide staff.

Meanwhile, television and print news outlets are in the midst of a tumultuous transition to digital platforms, requiring skills beyond mere journalistic chops. 

In a brief interview with The Wrap, a partisan of the 58-year-old Westin claims that with the latest cuts ABC News will be financially sound no matter how the marketplace turns. This person, who declined to speak for the record before Westin is prepared to go public with his own account, says the executive felt the timing was right to leave after the cuts and with the key anchor slots presumably filled for years to come. In his remaining months at ABC News, Westin is supposed to help Iger and other top executives identify his successor, the ABC official said.

A lawyer-turned-axe-wielding-news-executive knows best that an accountant may better suited to preside over the division. After all, broadcast news business has long been about head counts, not headlines.