In a series of major changes at
According to a note sent by ABC News President James Goldston to staff Wednesday, Sawyer, 68, will continue to report for the network "for many years to come" but will shift to focus on "original reporting, big ideas and interviews for all platforms."
Muir and Stephanopoulos had both been considered likely candidates to succeed Sawyer, whenever she decided to step down from "World News." The division of labor represents a somewhat unprecedented arrangement — one that acknowledges Stephanopoulos' leadership position within the news division and his pivotal role in the network's lucrative morning show, but one that also could be seen as undercutting Muir's status as "World News" anchor.
On Wednesday, some media observers suggested that the moves mark the further diminishment of the once-vaunted role of the evening news anchor.
"It seems to me the message ABC is sending its viewers by having Muir be junior to Stephanopoulos is that if you want serious news, don't look to the evening news," said TV news analyst Andrew Tyndall.
Kentucky native Sawyer joined ABC News in 1989 and succeeded
Gibson became sole anchor in May 2006 but stepped down just three years later. By then, Sawyer had been co-anchor at "Good Morning America" for 10 years and was one of the network's best-known news personalities.
For a short time before
Under Sawyer, the broadcast, which is No. 2 in the ratings overall with a season-to-date average of 8.1 million viewers, has nearly caught up to ratings leader "
In recent months, Sawyer has also edged out Williams in the all-important 25- to 54-year-old demographic, winning May sweeps for the first time in seven years by a margin of 106,000 viewers in the age group.
But Sawyer has also been criticized for a perceived shift toward softer news and so-called infotainment — what Tyndall has decried as the "Disneyfication" of "World News."
"ABC has radically cut back on the amount of hard news and increased its coverage of weather, human interest, celebrities, social media, show business and sports," Tyndall said, though he noted that the change really did not take place until several years into Sawyer's reign at the broadcast network.
Despite her ratings successes, Sawyer began to express interest in a new role to Disney/ABC Television Group's co-president,
Muir, 40, who is the weekend anchor of "World News" and co-anchor of the newsmagazine
In his newly created position, Stephanopoulos will be the lead anchor for live coverage of breaking news and other major events and will also continue at "This Week" and "Good Morning America."
The 53-year-old got his start as a Democratic strategist before moving into journalism and is seen as adept at both serious news as well as the lighter fare that has become a "Good Morning America" hallmark.