ABC News taps Kim Godwin as president, a milestone for the broadcast industry

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Stephen Battaglio
·5 min read
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Kim Godwin, president of ABC News
Kim Godwin was formerly vice president of news and executive director for development and diversity for CBS News. (John Paul Filo / CBS)

Kim Godwin has been named president of ABC News, making her the first Black woman to run a broadcast TV news division.

Godwin, whose appointment was made official Wednesday by ABC parent Walt Disney Co., is exiting CBS News where executive changes are also underway.

CBS News President Susan Zirinsky confirmed to her staff that she will be leaving her post for a new role producing nonfiction programming at ViacomCBS, according to people familiar with the discussions who were not authorized to comment.

A representative for CBS News had no comment on Zirinsky's expected departure. The news veteran made it clear to staff that she is remaining with the company and will oversee a transition at the news division she first took over in Jan. 2019, according to a person who attended the meeting who was not authorized to discuss it publicly. No timetable was given for naming her successor.

Godwin, who was an executive vice president at CBS News, is joining ABC News at a time when it has the leading programs in the morning with "Good Morning America," and evenings with "ABC World News Tonight With David Muir." But the division was rocked by a report in the Huffington Post last year in which one of its top executives, Barbara Fedida, had made racist and demeaning comments about some of the talent at the network.

Fedida departed ABC after an internal investigation. Six months later, James Goldston stepped down as ABC News president, a post he held since 2014.

Godwin, who joined CBS News in 2007 after holding a number of positions in local TV news, was known for championing diversity efforts at the division.

“Kim is an instinctive and admired executive whose unique experiences, strengths and strategic vision made her the ideal choice to lead the outstanding team at ABC News and build on their incredible success,” Peter Rice, chairman of Disney general entertainment content, said in a statement. “Throughout Kim’s career in global news organizations and local newsrooms, she has distinguished herself as a fierce advocate for excellence, collaboration, inclusion and the vital role of accurate and transparent news reporting.”

CBS News President Susan Zirinsky smiling in 2019
Susan Zirinsky will be stepping down as president of CBS News, reportedly to produce nonfiction programming at ViacomCBS. (Shannon Finney / Getty Images)

“I have immense respect and admiration for ABC News,” Godwin said in a statement. “As the most trusted brand in news, they are to be commended for the extraordinary work and dedication of the journalists, producers, executives and their teams across the organization. I am honored to take on this stewardship and excited for what we will achieve together.”

Godwin was discussed as a possible successor to Zirinsky when ViacomCBS first embarked on an executive search for her successor last year. George Cheeks, president and chief executive of the CBS Entertainment Group, congratulated her in an internal memo to staff.

"For a while now, Kim and I have been in an ongoing discussion about her future, including new opportunities, at CBS," Cheeks said in the memo. "I know first-hand the affection and passion she has for CBS News. At the same time, she was presented with an opportunity she simply couldn’t pass up."

Steve Capus, a veteran news executive who worked with Godwin at the "CBS Evening News," praised ABC's new hire.

"She is going to be great in this role," Capus said. "She's got the right kind of temperament and skill set that will lead to success. In a business known for screaming maniacs, she is the exact opposite. Steady, decisive and a natural born leader and mentor. She knows how to handle big name talent and knows how to get the best out of people."

There were also discussions with Godwin about taking over leadership of the CBS TV stations group following the dismissal of Peter Dunn and David Friend. The executives were ousted on April 7, two months after a Los Angeles Times investigation alleged that the pair cultivated an environment that included bullying female managers and blocking efforts to hire and retain Black journalists, claims the men have denied.

Meanwhile, the network Godwin is leaving behind faces more upheaval in the executive suite.

Zirinsky made history at CBS News when she became its first woman president, although she was reluctant to take the job as she has always been most comfortable calling the shots in a dark TV control room as producer.

Her appointment came at a time when the division was reeling from the firings of "CBS This Morning" anchor Charlie Rose, over sexual harassment accusations, and longtime "60 Minutes" executive producer Jeff Fager, who faced allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior.

Zirinsky's passion and dedication for CBS News, where she has worked since 1972, provided a morale boost, especially among veterans within the division. She rebuilt "CBS This Morning," making Gayle King the central co-host of the program, and installed Norah O'Donnell as anchor of the "CBS Evening News." Both programs trail ABC and NBC in the Nielsen ratings but have improved their competitive positions.

But insiders at the network said Zirinsky was never happy with the managerial aspects of the jobs, which included significant staff cuts implemented last year. She also had to contend with the challenges of keeping the news division going amid the COVID-19 pandemic. CBS News was hit early and hard by an outbreak at its Manhattan studios and offices early last year.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.