Head of ABC News resigning after conflict over news budget

David Westin, 58, the longtime president of ABC News, is resigning after a running conflict with ABC’s parent company, Walt Disney, over the financial standing of the news division.

ABC News sources said that Disney and ABC managers had pressed Westin for years to make the division more profitable, but had been unhappy with his efforts to accomplish that goal. ABC announced in February that it would reduce its staff by up to 400 employees, about 25 percent of its work force.

Westin, in an e-mail to his staff, cast his decision to leave as a personal one after 14 years in the ABC job. He said it was time for him “to move on.” He pledged to stay until the end of the year to give ABC time to find a replacement.

“I’ve always admired those few who know when it’s time to move on,’’ Westin wrote to the staff. “’This is the right time for me.’’

Westin’s successor will be appointed soon, Disney-ABC Media Networks co-chairwoman Anne Sweeney said.

Another senior ABC News executive told the “New York Times” that the news division had been consistently profitable, but ABC had sought to increase its profit margin to 15 percent from 5 percent.

ABC News programs typically rank second to NBC News programs, but ABC lags far behind in terms of earnings.

Westin, a corporate lawyer with little background in the news business, was regarded with suspicion by many at ABC when he took over in March 1997 from television legend Roone Arledge. However, he stuck it out through some difficult moments, including the sudden cancer death of anchor Peter Jennings and the severe wounding of successor Bob Woodruff in an Iraq bombing.