Exclusive: ABC News Poaches Reuters Editor To Run Web Operations

Erle Norton will today be named executive producer of ABC News Digital, overseeing editorial and video operations across ABCNews.com.

ABC News President Ben Sherwood continues to aggressively revamp and expand the network’s digital operations, luring one of the top video editors at Reuters to run ABCNews.com.

Erle Norton will today be named as the new executive producer of ABC News Digital, overseeing editorial and video operations across all of ABCNews.com. Norton, who arrives at ABC News from Thomson Reuters, will be charged with expanding digital coverage in lifestyle, tech, and enterprise, among other responsibilities. His implied mandate will be to grow ABC News Digital on its own to be as large as — or overtake — its top three rivals: CNN, NBC, and CBS. As it currently stands, ABC News Digital is only bigger than the web operations of those three competitors by virtue of its partnership with Yahoo. On a standalone basis, it is smaller.

“My biggest push will be in the newsroom,” Norton said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed. “We’re going to leave the standard stories and packages in favor of experimentation. We want to zero in on the most fascinating parts of the news. That’s the way ABC News will continue to stand out.”

Norton is the latest in a string of high level editorial defections to hit Reuters. He joined Reuters in mid-2012 as editorial director of Reuters Digital Video, managing video operations across the entire company under the direction of Dan Colarusso, who himself was just appointed as executive editor of Reuters Digital.

“Erle is the best kept secret in journalism, a force as a leader and a journalist,” said a former colleague who requested anonymity because he will be competing with Norton in his new role.

Norton arrives at ABC News at a time of rapid digital expansion under Sherwood, particularly as it relates to original video programming. Sherwood, along with then Yahoo Executive Vice President Ross Levinsohn, announced an expanded content sharing agreement in October 2011 under which ABC News agreed to produce original content for Yahoo, including an online version of Good Morning America. Indeed, a correlation can be drawn between the Yahoo partnership and the fact that Good Morning America beat NBC’s Today in both total viewers and the 25–54-year-old demographic for a full season this year for the first time ever, though other factors — such as the Ann Curry firing debacle and resulting hostility among viewers toward Matt Lauer — played into it as well.

This past April, the agreement was expanded yet again in what Sherwood described as “phase two” of the partnership, launching three new original digital shows aimed at bringing the “secret sauce” Yahoo gave to Good Morning America to grow the reach and engagement of ABC World News and Nightline.

The combined reach of Yahoo-ABC News is massive, with the joint entity serving up 82.2 million unique visitors and 2.6 billion page views in August, ranking it as the top general news and information destination according to figures provided by comScore. On a unique visitor basis, the combined venture outpaces rival digital networks run by CNN, NBC News, CBS News, and Fox News by between 16 million and 53 million.

However, stripping out the Yahoo part of the equation, which provides ABC News with unparalleled distribution reach, and the figures aren’t as rosy. Without Yahoo, ABC News websites themselves only delivered 36.5 million unique visitors in August, according to comScore, less than CNN (66 million), NBC News (50.3 million), and CBS News (37.5 million), but still more than Fox News (27.6 million).

Norton’s departure from Reuters follows the wire service’s recent shuttering of its ambitious digital revamp, dubbed Reuters Next. Prior to joining Reuters, Norton oversaw the New York Post’s website, where he played a key role transitioning that paper’s newsroom to the digital age on the way to doubling its traffic. Throughout the ’90s, Norton was a business reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

(Disclosure: The writer of this post worked at Reuters prior to joining BuzzFeed.)

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