ABC News Can Make History By Hiring A Woman To Replace David Westin

Following news that ABC President David Westin is resigning after 13 years due to rumored conflicts with management at the Walt Disney Company speculation about his replacement, and the fate of ABC News has begun.

Westin’s departure is rumored to be the result of his inability to increase profits at ABC — not a new story by any means in the media world these days. And while ABC News has remained in the black, they have been notably hampered in recent years by their lack of inroads online (they only this year made clips embeddable) and their lack of a cable news presence in an era in which cable news has dominated. Yahoo reports there is increased speculation that “networks like ABC and CBS — which don’t have a sister cable network — will eventually merge news divisions with outlets such as CNN or Bloomberg News.”

But as with all big changes perhaps best to look at this as an opportunity for ABC News to shake things up a bit on the management side in a manner similar to what they have done on the anchor side. Namely: Is it time for some women?

The decision to move Christiane Amanpour into the anchor chair of This Week, was controversial to be sure (mostly because Jake Tapper had in his short time mustered a legion of loyal fans, and deservedly so) but as someone whose job requires her to watch the Sunday shows I can say adding a woman to the network anchor lineup was a much-needed, long-awaited change. And while Amanpour’s journalist credentials speak for themselves, the presence of a woman on a frequently male-dominated Sunday line-up is noticeable. Less wave-making was the decision to move Diane Sawyer to the network anchor chair, though the resulting network news ratio is not to be so easily dismissed. Can we hope for the same on the management side?

To be sure, ABC already has a woman at the top in the form of Anne Sweeney who is president of the ABC/Disney television group and will be doing the hiring. But there has never been a female network news president and perhaps it’s time to change that ratio (so to speak).

ABC’s ratings juggernaut is Good Morning America, which relies heavily on a female audience. The same can be said for The View. Might the trickle-down effect of having a woman at the reins only be a boon to these enterprises? Obviously, it is a metric that’s nearly impossible to measure beyond the assumption that having a woman in charge always makes things somewhat different (at the most basic level, women think differently than men). Additionally, wouldn’t it be interesting to see what those things might be beginning with ABC overhauling it’s image as an news organization run by a woman.

So who might the candidates be? Turns out there are a lot of women circulating in the speculation mix. It’s notable that Westin doesn’t currently have a second in command. B&C‘s Marisa Guthrie notes that “with the departure of Dave Davis – who was brought in as Westin’s second-in-command in 2008 – and announced retirement of creative development senior VP Phyllis McGrady from fulltime duties, internal candidates to replace Westin could include other executives currently at ABC News.” Rumor has it one of those candidates might be Rebecca Campbell current president of the ABC Owned Television Stations Group. And Guthrie reports Amy Entelis, the senior VP for talent and recruitment and Kate O’Brian, senior VP of news coverage may also be in the running.

If Sweeney wants to go outside the network Alex Wallace the number two at NBC News, a well respected network news veteran, is a viable candidate. Cheryl Gould, Senior Vice President of NBC News has been mentioned as a possibility, but is a far less likely choice.

So actually, on closer inspection, it turns out there are a lot of women to choose from. That can only be encouraging; it means women have successfully made their way up the ranks of a traditionally male-dominated industry. And while the point of any hiring exercise, particularly one this important, is to get the best and smartest person for the job the fact I didn’t have to dig very far for these names suggests that posts such as this one will very soon no longer be necessary.

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