Norah O’Donnell will become anchor and managing editor of the “CBS Evening News” and Gayle King is getting two new morning show co-hosts as CBS News seeks to boost the programs’ ratings and put a tumultuous, scandal-scarred period behind it.
The changes announced Monday were orchestrated by Susan Zirinsky, a 47-year CBS News veteran who took over in March as the division’s president. Her predecessor left after Charlie Rose at “CBS This Morning” and the top executive at “60 Minutes” lost their jobs following misconduct allegations.
“This is a start of a new era for CBS News,” Zirinsky said in a statement.
In an interview, she said change was demanded by both internal events — she likened the past few years at CBS News to the children’s books known as “A Series of Unfortunate Events” — and political and media realities.
“Breaking through the cacophony of voices and choices for news is quite extraordinary. And to take a venerable legacy network like CBS and help it break through the clutter was my goal. And how do you do that? You shake it up,” she said. “I have the baseline, the phenomenal reporters of CBS News both domestically and abroad, but to take something that is very stuck in the past and take it to a new place” is the goal.
For CBS News overall, that means delivering news to viewers on whatever platform, digital or traditional, they use, Zirinsky said. For the nightly newscast in particular, it means changing anchors and relocating the program from New York to Washington, D.C., for the first time and as the 2020 election looms.
“I feel like Washington is the center of gravity right now, and for the next two years. The most important job we have over the next two years is revealing the country to itself,” Zirinsky said. That doesn’t mean a campaign-centric newscast, she said, but one in which politically adroit journalist O’Donnell can be an advocate for Americans and “hold the powerful accountable.”
O’Donnell, 45, who replaces anchor Jeff Glor after his short tenure, will be the third woman to serve as solo anchor of an evening newscast, following Diane Sawyer at ABC and Katie Couric at CBS. She noted the reputation of Walter Cronkite, who anchored the broadcast for 19 years and was often referred to as “the most trusted man in America.”
“I think about the legacy and I think about the history of CBS News and that it’s incredibly humbling to accept this position. I’m going to give this everything I got,” O’Donnell told viewers Monday. She was chief White House correspondent when she joined “CBS This Morning” in 2012, teaming up with Rose and King.
In a phone interview, O’Donnell said she’s looking forward to the proximity she’ll regain to the White House and to legislators on Capitol Hill, given the weight of events in Washington.
“But that’s not where the only story is, and we’re going to take the broadcast across America and around the world,” she said. A journalist for more than two decades, including more than 10 years with NBC News in Washington, O’Donnell has covered six presidential campaigns, interviewed U.S. and other leaders and reported on events including Hurricane Harvey and the Las Vegas mass shooting.
The 2017 decision by former CBS News president David Rhodes to appoint Glor as anchor of the “CBS Evening News,” replacing Scott Pelley, failed to produce ratings momentum. The newscast continues to trail ABC’s “World News Tonight” with anchor David Muir and “NBC Nightly News” with Lester Holt.
Glor, 43, is still negotiating his future with CBS News. Zirinsky said she hopes he decides to accept the opportunity he’s been offered, which she didn’t detail.
King, 64, has cemented her importance to “CBS This Morning” with newsmaking interviews, the most recent her high-profile interview with singer R. Kelly . She’ll be joined by longtime CBS journalist Anthony Mason and relative newcomer Tony Dokoupil, who joined the news division as a correspondent in 2016. Both have reported for “CBS Sunday Morning.”
“CBS This Morning,” designed as a newsier morning show than its rivals, was making steady progress in ratings and reputation until Rose’s firing, then started to slip in viewership. The morning programs that include NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America” warrant the attention: They’re the most reliable profit centers for news divisions.
On the air Monday, King addressed reports of tension between her and O’Donnell.
“I have no beef with you and you have no beef with me. It’s two great jobs for two great women,” she said.
O’Donnell said the audience can see the actual relationship for themselves. The real question is why people “don’t write this stuff about men. We have to be honest about saying that out loud,” she told The Associated Press.
Zirinsky, who called King “critical” to the broadcast and trusted by viewers and newsmakers alike, said she’ll be teamed with two skillful reporters in Mason and Dokoupil. She called the latter “an amazing storyteller” and Dokoupil, who just welcomed a baby boy with wife and NBC News correspondent and MSNBC anchor Katy Tur, “a young rising star.”
Bianna Golodryga, who joined “CBS This Morning” last fall as its fourth host, left the show and the network last month after being offered other work that she declined.
John Dickerson, 50, who hopscotched from political director to “Face the Nation” moderator in 2015 to “CBS This Morning” as Rose’s replacement in January 2018, will become a correspondent for “60 Minutes.” The droll newsman indicated he was content with the move, mentioning a long-time admiration for the venerable news magazine.
Rose, dismissed following sexual misconduct allegations, denied any improper behavior involving female staffers at CBS News.
In February, the incoming Zirinsky appointed Bill Owens as executive producer of “60 Minutes.” He filled the void left by last fall’s firing of Jeff Fager for sending a threatening text message to a colleague writing a story about him. Fager denied wrongdoing.
SOURCE: LYNN ELBER, AP