In the wake of David Westin‘s announcement this week that he’s stepping down after 13 years as president of ABC News, networks should initiate informal five-year term limits on news division chiefs.
So says Andrew Heyward, (left) president of CBS News from 1996 to 2005.
“If the media continues to evolve and change at anything like the pace it has, you need a regular infusion of new ideas and new leadership,” says Heyward, a media consultant whose clients have included NBC News.
“These are very demanding jobs,” he says. “They’ve become incredibly complex in the last 10 years. The pressures have been building since the ’80s. They aren’t the statesmanlike positions they were when network news was invented.”
In Heyward’s view, the perfect candidate for ABC “would balance reverence for what is … valuable about network news with a willingness to consider pretty radical change. That’s more likely to happen with somebody who hasn’t been there for a decade or so.”
By Heyward’s yardstick, NBC’s Steve Capus and CBS’s Sean McManus would both be lame ducks. And the late, great Roone Arledge, who ruled ABC from 1977 to ’98, would have exploded the metric.
Lone exception to Heyward’s rule: Fox News top gun Roger Ailes, whom he says will remain in office “for at least 100 years.” (FYI: Heyward says he has never consulted for Fox.)
While some experts say Westin’s departure signals Disney intention to get out of the network-TV business, others insist it’s too early to tell.
“It’s not necessarily a sea change, but the world of mass-media journalism is changing so rapidly, people [including the media] are desperate to explain what the changes mean,” says network-news analyst Andrew Tyndall.
Thus far, according to Tyndall, “This is a trend piece masquerading as a news story.”