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Kimberly Godwin Makes History As First Black Leader Of A Major Broadcast Newsroom


There are lots of changes in the TV news business this week. ABC News has named Kimberly Godwin to be its next president. She is the first person of color and also just the third woman to hold such a role. Meanwhile, CBS News is announcing big changes to its leadership. NPR's David Folkenflik joins us now to talk more about all of this. Hey, David.


CHANG: So tell us a little more about Kimberly Godwin and what challenges she'll be inheriting at ABC News.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I looked back at the roster. It's really rare for ABC News to go outside its walls for a top leader. She is pretty well-qualified, I got to say. The former No. 2 for the last two years at CBS News - she's really been credited with leading the newsroom during a time of intense and heroic news coverage. And she also helped to lead efforts to think more broadly about issues of diversity and representation in staffing issues and in what's covered and how.

I think she walks out of CBS News, which has had its challenges in the ratings, and walks across the street metaphorically to ABC. It's a place where it has a top-rated portfolio. That is, if you look at "World News Tonight," if you look at "Good Morning America," even "The View" is the top-rated daytime TV show. That's part of ABC News's portfolio, and some of its sister shows as well do well. She's inheriting a pretty strong thing. The question there is one of culture. There's this really intense tension between its two top anchors, George Stephanopoulos in the morning and David Muir in the evenings and also a question of a top executive who was forced out last year, accused of bigotry towards some of her colleagues. I think these are some of the things Godwin will be taking on.

CHANG: OK. Well, what about the bigger picture here? What do you think Godwin's appointment and the changes at CBS - what do you think they tell us about this moment for TV news right now?

FOLKENFLIK: So I think it tells you that TV news is not apart from the society it exists within and also the society it covers every day on the news. You know, there's been this incredible push for racial equity on the streets and in newsrooms, particularly over the past year. ABC is not immune from that. There's been also just major upheaval in the top ranks of television news. A new leader at MSNBC - the first person of color, the first woman to lead that cable news network. CNN's Jeff Zucker is leaving at the end of the year.

And let's think back again to where Godwin came from, CBS News. Susan Zirinsky has only been on the job for two years - a legend there. She's leaving now as well to take a senior production job for CBS. She's replaced by two veteran TV executives. Neeraj Khemlani comes from Hearst Network, where he was an executive VP, a former producer for "60 Minutes." And Wendy McMahon is named. She had headed up local TV stations for the ABC network and also earlier in her career worked for a couple of CBS stations. So you're seeing some change and some tumult over at the shop that Godwin just left.

CHANG: So interesting - I mean, there does seem to be a lot of turnover in the industry right now. Why do you think that is?

FOLKENFLIK: I mean, there's a number of things. Funnily enough, particularly on the cable side, if you look at presidential administrations wrapping up and new ones being launched, that's often a moment of transition for television news executives. I think there's been a loss of ratings under Trump. There's a question about what to cover. And then, of course, there's the question of this competition from streaming. The challenge in some ways is almost greater than any one news leader can well take on, but they've got to figure out how they hold on to viewers they have and appeal to audiences that not only may not like conventional news, but may not be plugged into network TV at all.

CHANG: That is NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Thank you, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.