ABC News insiders react to Kim Godwin's hire as the Disney division's new president

  • Disney hired Kimberly Godwin to run ABC News, making her the first Black exec to head a broadcast news division.
  • Some insiders expressed concern about an outsider coming in while others hope she will usher in more diversity.
  • Her challenges will include fostering a more positive environment at ABC News, where talent can be at odds.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Disney named Kimberly Godwin president of its ABC News division on Wednesday, making her the first Black executive to head a broadcast news network.

Some staffers expressed surprise by the choice of the CBS News vet, since Disney typically picks from inside its ranks.

There is also some question about why Disney content chief Peter Rice, who has been running ABC News since president James Goldston’s departure, chose to raid CBS News, which typically places third in the morning and evening show ratings, to keep ABC News’ first-place shows “Good Morning America” and “World News Tonight” growing.

Morning news shows alone are a billion-dollar business, mostly dominated by NBC News’ “Today.” “Good Morning America” earned $221.5 million in ad revenue last year through September, while “CBS This Morning,” made around $138 million, according to Kantar.

Godwin, who starts in May, will also be in charge of shows such as “20/20,” “Nightline,” “The View,” and “This Week,” and responsible for crafting a wider strategy for ABC News digital operations as part of Disney’s wider effort to grow its streaming entertainment channels, Hulu and Disney+. 

One person familiar with ABC News staff members’ thinking said they saw Godwin as something of a mystery and that they were “very nervous about an outsider.”

Another person familiar with internal thinking said staffers were also “cautiously optimistic” about Godwin and hoped she would affect real change on the diversity front.

ABC News’ culture has been described by some employees of color as historically being unsupportive. An effort in early 2018 to build a Black affinity group among various ABC units dissolved when managers made it into a wider initiative aimed at encouraging future leaders of all races, one person involved told Insider. The company also let go of its talent chief Barbara Fedida after an investigation concluded she made racially insensitive comments.

In a sign of change, the network is currently advertising for race and culture reporters on Linkedin. Godwin had built such a unit at CBS News to cover social justice and diversity issues. 

Three stories leading the news cycle this week underscore the importance of race: the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who knelt on the back of George Floyd leading to his death; the police killing of young black man, Duante Wright; and business leaders of some of America’s biggest corporations signing a letter protesting voting laws in Georgia, which make it harder for minorities to vote. 

One of Godwin’s main challenges will be fostering a more positive environment at ABC News, where highly paid talent are sometimes at odds, as evidenced by a CNN report about a dispute between George Stephanopoulos and David Muir over the chief anchor title.

Godwin had previously worked closely with CBS’s anchors Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell, but one person familiar with the news industry described the talent relations issues ahead of her at ABC News as much more challenging.

At CBS News, Godwin held the No. 2 position as executive vice president of news under chief Susan Zirinsky. Sources say Godwin had made it known that she wanted to run the unit. 

Two sources said Godwin was offered a co-president’s role inside CBS News, but one person familiar with internal conversations said Godwin found the idea of job sharing insulting. The CBS News top management role has previously been shared when Jeff Fager was chairman and David Rhodes was president, but it’s been a single role under Zirinsky, who is only two years into the position. 

ABC News didn’t immediately have comment; Godwin didn’t respond to requests for comment. CBS News referred inquiries to CBS Entertainment Group in LA, which did not immediately return a request for comment.

Leadership changes at ABC News and CBS News are now in full swing, leaving hundreds of editorial staffers wondering what’s next for them. 

At CBS News, Zirinsky is stepping down, The Wall Street Journal reported. People familiar with the network believe ViacomCBS Entertainment Group president George Cheeks favors a female candidate with strong digital credentials. Sources have speculated that it could be NBC News’ Janelle Rodriguez. She declined comment. Another contender is Verizon’s Alex Wallace, who didn’t return a call. A CBS News spokesperson was not immediately available for comment. CBS also talked to other potential candidates including former “Today” chief Jim Bell, who would be a good bet as CBS works to shore up “CBS This Morning.” He was not immediately reachable for comment. 

Change is afoot at other news networks. CNN’s Jeff Zucker has said he will remain at only until the end of the year, while at MSNBC, Rashida Jones took the reigns as president in February.

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