The Media Today

A season of turnover

April 16, 2021

On Wednesday, Kim Godwin, an executive at CBS News, was named as the next president of ABC News, a rival network. She will replace James Goldston, and be the first Black woman to run a broadcast TV news division. As word of Godwin’s move went around, we also learned that Susan Zirinsky, her boss at CBS, would be stepping down. Zirinsky plans to stay at CBS in a production role, but she will be replaced atop the news division by two new hires—Neeraj Khemlani, currently an executive at Hearst Newspapers, and Wendy McMahon, of ABC News. Between them, as the result of an internal restructuring, the two will oversee both news programming and local CBS TV stations. McMahon, who oversaw ABC’s local stations, was reported to have been in contention for the president job there; she and Godwin are now swapping companies. And McMahon was not the only high-profile leader to leave ABC News yesterday: Michael Corn, the senior executive producer of Good Morning America, is also on the way out. Variety described his departure as “abrupt.”

The carousel may have spun especially fast at CBS and ABC this week, but they weren’t outliers in the world of media. In recent months, there has been lots of turnover in journalism’s top jobs. It started in earnest late last year: in December, Norm Pearlstine stepped back as executive editor of the LA Times and into an advisory role, and MSNBC named Rashida Jones as its new president, making her the first Black woman to lead a cable-news network. The same month, Nicholas Thompson left Wired, where he was editor in chief, to become CEO of The Atlantic; he has since been succeeded at Wired (in a slightly redefined role) by Gideon Lichfield, the former top editor at MIT Technology Review.

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Then, early this year, Vox named Swati Sharma, managing editor at The Atlantic, as its next editor in chief, replacing Lauren Williams, who left to launch Capital B, a nonprofit outlet aimed at Black audiences. After more than a year without an editor in chief, and following its turbulent takeover by BuzzFeed, HuffPost appointed Danielle Belton, the top editor at The Root, to the position; on Wednesday, The Root replaced Belton with Vanessa De Luca, the former editor in chief of ZORA, a Medium publication that offered all of its editorial staffers a buyout last month. John Simons, a health and science editor at the Wall Street Journal, joined Time as executive editor; David Cho, business editor at the Washington Post, will become editor in chief of Barron’s. The Paris Review named Emily Stokes, formerly of The New Yorker, as its editor; The New Republic appointed Michael Tomasky, of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, atop its masthead. After Lindsay Peoples Wagner, the editor in chief of Teen Vogue, left for New York’s The Cut, Condé Nast planned to replace her with Alexi McCammond, a politics reporter at Axiosbut the hire was swiftly reversed amid concerns over her offensive past tweets and general suitability for the job; last week, Teen Vogue promoted Danielle Kwarteng, its entertainment and culture director, to executive editor. This week, Reuters promoted Alessandra Galloni, a global managing editor, to editor in chief, replacing Stephen J. Adler, who is retiring.

Several major outlets still have leadership vacancies. Rolling Stone has yet to name a permanent replacement for Jason Fine, who stepped down as editor and took a new role at the company in February. The LA Times is still without an executive editor; Patrick Soon-Shiong, the paper’s owner, said recently that the interview process is at an “advanced” stage, and that he has met with most of the candidates. Marty Baron, the editor of the Washington Post, retired at the end of February; it’s unclear exactly how close the paper is to naming a permanent successor, though the names in the frame are said to include a pair of senior editors at the New York Times, Carolyn Ryan and Marc Lacey (who Feven Merid recently profiled for CJR). The Chicago Sun-Times has been without an executive editor since Chris Fusco left last year. Per Poynter, three outlets in Texas are also on the lookout: the Houston Chronicle, where Steve Riley is retiring as executive editor (but staying on for now); the Dallas Morning News, whose executive editor, Mike Wilson, left and became a sports editor at the New York Times; and the Texas Tribune, where Stacy-Marie Ishmael, the editorial director, and Millie Tran, the chief product officer, are stepping down after little more than a year in their respective posts.

Both Ishmael and Tran cited burnout for their decisions; Baron and Wilson also said that their jobs had left them exhausted. “Running a newspaper today is like swimming across a hot fudge river: You gorge yourself on the decadent pleasure of it, but you have to kick like hell to get to the other side,” Wilson wrote, announcing his exit from the Morning News. “So I’m full, and I’m tired.” Yesterday, Megan Greenwell, the editor of Wired’s website, announced that she is leaving her job next week, and said that, like Ishmael and Tran, “I am totally drained.” Scott Rosenfield, Wired’s site director, is also leaving.

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There are many reasons for the recent turnover, from the general hellish intensity of the news cycle, to specifically personal factors, to the ongoing industry reckoning with racism and other institutional faults. The upheaval at CBS alone demonstrates this range: Zirinsky had reportedly grown tired of the bureaucratic and managerial demands of her position atop CBS News (according to Page Six, during a recent budget meeting, Zirinsky wrote “I hate my job” on a piece of paper and held it above her head); Peter Dunn, who previously oversaw local CBS stations, was ousted following an LA Times investigation into claims of rampant racism and misogyny on his watch. It’s hard not to see that the collective masthead changes reflect the media industry at a turning point. New editors must juggle the pressures of a treacherous business climate for news; demands, among many staffers and audiences, for greater diversity and equity; and the need for visionary leadership. A source recently told Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo that the Post is looking for a “unicorn”: “an editor of Marty Baron’s stature, but one who has a passport with many more stamps and who is much more in touch with the journalists of tomorrow.” The Post isn’t the only major outlet in need of such a figure.

Below, more on the news business:

  • Another notable appointment: Yesterday, Vox announced that Jamil Smith, formerly a senior writer at Rolling Stone, is joining the site as a senior correspondent. According to a press release, Smith will work across Vox’s website, podcast arm, and video department to “interrogate the biggest problems society faces across politics, race, and culture and bring to light new solutions for creating a more just and equitable society.”
  • A notable paywall: Reuters isn’t just getting a new editor in chief; it is also instituting a paywall for its website, which is currently free to read, as well as a redesign aimed at “professional” audiences. “After registration and a free preview period, a subscription to will cost $34.99 a month, the same as Bloomberg’s digital subscription,” Katie Robertson, of the Times, reports. Josh London, chief marketing officer at Reuters, said that the website is undertaking its “largest digital transformation” in a decade.
  • Substack, I: The newsletter platform Substack will pay thirty journalists one-year stipends to cover local news, Recode’s Peter Kafka reports. The plan is similar to a controversial set of advances that Substack launched to lure high-profile national-level writers, and stems, its founders told Kafka, from “encouraging signs” that the Substack model is already attracting local reporters. (ICYMI, Clio Chang profiled Substack for CJR’s recent magazine on a moment of transition for the press.)
  • Substack, II: Recently, Chea Waters Evans quit as editor of the Charlotte News, in Vermont, after clashing with the publisher. Four prominent, locally-based members of the paper’s board—including Adam Davidson, formerly of the New Yorker, and Christina Asquith, founder of the Fuller Project—quit, too, in solidarity. Now they are launching the Charlotte Bridge, a nonprofit outlet, with Evans as editor, that will initially live on Substack. James Finn, of VTDigger, has more details.
  • Meanwhile, in the UK: Jess Brammar, the editor in chief of HuffPost’s UK edition, announced yesterday that she will leave the site as BuzzFeed, its new owner, plans to implement sweeping cuts to her team. “My role is going along with about half the team,”  she wrote on Twitter. “I was offered a new reduced editor role, running a Huffpost UK without a newsdesk, as part of Buzzfeed’s plan to ‘fast track its path to profitability.’ But news is at the heart of what Huffpost was for me. So I am bowing out.”

Other notable stories:

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Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, and The Nation, among other outlets. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.