By:
December 8, 2020

Monday was a big day for several media companies as they named new leadership positions. MSNBC, Fox News and the Miami Herald all named new senior leaders. What’s notable is that MSNBC and the Miami Herald both named Black women to run their newsrooms — the first time that has happened at both media outlets.

So let’s take a look at the moves, starting at MSNBC.

Rashida Jones named big boss at MSNBC

In news first broken by The Wall Street Journal’s Benjamin Mullin and Joe Flint, Rashida Jones will take over MSNBC in February, making her the first Black executive to run one of the nation’s major TV news outlets. Jones will take over for Phil Griffin, who is expected to step down at the end of January after serving as the network’s president since 2008. Griffin has been with MSNBC since its inception in 1996.

In her current role, Jones is a senior vice president of both NBC News and MSNBC and oversees daytime and weekend programming for MSNBC. She will now be president of MSNBC.

In a memo to staff, Cesar Conde, chairman of NBCUniversal’s news operations, said, “Rashida knows and understands MSNBC, in part because it’s where she started when she first joined NBCU seven years ago. She knows that it is the people who work here that make it great, and she understands its culture. She also appreciates the impact and potential of the brand.”

As Mullin pointed out on Twitter, this is Conde’s first major decision since taking over as NBCUniversal News Group chairman in May. In his memo, Conde also spoke glowingly of Griffin, writing, “At MSNBC, Phil has built something remarkable. He leaves the network in the best shape it has ever been. Six straight record years. Each one better than the last. An extraordinary roster of anchors, journalists, producers, contributors and many more who each day create smart, in-depth news, analysis and perspective and do it in a way that is distinctive in the cable news environment — with humanity that pops through the screen. That’s no coincidence.”

MSNBC is in a good place at the moment with signature shows such as “Morning Joe” and nighttime hosts such as Joy Reid and Rachel Maddow. Election and post-election coverage helped the network earn some of its best ratings in two decades.

But, as The New York Times Michael M. Grynbaum and John Koblin note, “Ms. Jones will assume control of a news network that reached ratings highs as a safe space for liberals enraged by President Trump, and is now pondering how to retain those viewers after the chief villain of its prime-time programming leaves office.”

Big hire at the Miami Herald

Monica Richardson has been named executive editor of the Miami Herald, becoming the first Black executive editor in the Herald’s 117-year history. She is currently the senior managing editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She will start with the Herald on Jan. 1.

In an interview with the Herald’s David Smiley, Richardson said, “I’m pleased to be working in a newsroom where journalism is the core mission of everything. That’s what drives me in my career. It’s the passion. I wouldn’t be coming to Miami if I didn’t see that passion for journalism.”

Richardson has been at the AJC for the past 15 years. Before that, she worked at the Charlottesville Observer, The Florida Times-Union and Lexington Herald-Leader. She now joins the McClatchy-owned Herald.

In a statement, McClatchy’s senior vice president of news, Kristin Roberts, said, “We are thrilled to welcome Monica to Miami. She has a strong record of leadership in local journalism at one of the great metro newsrooms in the country. Now, she brings her commitment to accountability journalism and a track record of successful digital innovation that serves local audiences.”

Richardson said she doesn’t take lightly being the first Black executive editor of the Herald, adding, “It means a lot to me. It means a lot to my family. It means a lot to my ancestors. I’ll step into those shoes and work hard.”

Richardson replaces Aminda Marqués González, who was the Herald’s executive editor for 10 years before leaving last month to join Simon & Schuster.

New news position at Fox News

Tom Lowell. (Courtesy: Fox News)

Fox News has named its very first executive vice president and managing editor of news. It’s Tom Lowell, a 17-year veteran of the network. In his new position, Lowell will, according to a release from Fox News, “oversee all daytime news editorial and news resources.” He will report to Fox News Media president and executive editor Jay Wallace, who reports to Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott.

In a statement, Scott called Lowell a “skilled journalist and talented producer,” adding, “we’re beyond confident that under his direction, the network’s daytime news programming will continue to thrive for many years to come.”

During his time at Fox News, Lowell launched and assisted in the creation of shows such as “America’s Newsroom” and “America Live,” as well as “The Kelly File” with former Fox News personality Megyn Kelly.

Before joining Fox News in 2003, Lowell had stops at WFSB-TV in Hartford, WCVB-TV in Boston, WSVN-TV in Miami, and WSEE-TV in Erie, Pennsylvania.

The shot

(Courtesy: ABC News)

This is an incredibly scary time in the COVID-19 crisis. Cases and deaths are surging and we’re still not quite to the point of getting a vaccine into syringes and into arms. ABC News will explore all this in a new one-hour documentary that will air Dec. 14 at 10 p.m. Eastern called “The Shot: Race for the Vaccine.” The documentary will explore the questions all of us are asking right now, particularly about the safety, access and timing of the vaccine.

The special will include interviews with experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, philanthropist Bill Gates and many others.

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The Athletic’s new idea

The Athletic — the ad-free, subscription-based website — tweeted out something intriguing on Monday. Here’s the tweet:

“We’re excited to start producing more stories that explore culture through the lens of the in-depth sports storytelling you’ve come to expect from us.” It then linked to a culture homepage.

The latest story on the page, written by Rustin Dodd, is “The History of the Fist Bump — With a Dap Detour and a Pause for the Pound.”

A sports site incorporating culture into its coverage is not a new concept. Places like The Ringer, The Undefeated, Deadspin, Defector and The Big Lead are just a handful of sports websites that include culture in their coverage.

But The Athletic seems to be in good shape financially at the moment and they hire talented journalists, so it will be fun to see if this vertical is a success.

Stephen A. defends his salary

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith. (John Salangsang/Invision/AP)

ESPN recently announced plans to lay off 300 and will not fill 200 other openings — all part of massive cuts partly caused by ESPN’s owner, Disney, losing hundreds of millions of dollars in 2020 because of the coronavirus.

Whenever a media company lays off employees, attention often turns to some of its highest-paid personalities. So it’s no surprise that someone on social media called out ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, who is believed to be making about $8 million a year to appear on ESPN’s debate show, “First Take,” as well as other ESPN programming. What is surprising is Smith responded to it.

The original tweet, which isn’t available to be read by most, took aim at Smith and “First Take” partner Max Kellerman for making so much money, relatively speaking. It said, “ESPN laying off talented people to pay for fat salaries like (Smith and Kellerman) to embarrass the platform is saddening.”

Smith probably would’ve been better off just letting the tweet go, but instead, he lashed out, defending his salary by tweeting:

“You might be able to get over it if you’d done your damn homework. I generate revenue clown. I bring money to help KEEP JOBS, not lose them. Know who the F&^%$ you’re talking about before opening your mouth. If you didn’t know you should’ve asked somebody.”

Smith is right. He has become the face of the network and is extremely talented and his work does generate money for ESPN. But as right as he might be, few are going to have sympathy for him.

One could argue that ESPN is overpaying Smith — that it doesn’t need to pay him that kind of money in order to keep him away from competitors. But rewarding one of your most valuable assets is also good business, too.

Smith is a polarizing figure, and there is probably some resentment and jealousy, even among viewers, that he makes that kind of money, especially when he has opinions they might not like anyway. But Smith isn’t the reason ESPN is having financial trouble. Again, he probably should have let the tweet pass, but his response wasn’t wrong either.

Media tidbits

  • Tonight’s “CBS Evening News” will feature anchor Norah O’Donnell’s interview with Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy. Topics will include the Army’s release of findings from the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee, as well as a plan to address sexual assault. The report follows a year-and-a-half-long investigation by O’Donnell and the CBS News Investigative Unit into sexual assault in the U.S. military.
  • The sports website The Big Lead has published its 2020 sports media awards. It’s a fun list, including the personality of the year (Bill Simmons), game analyst (Doris Burke), play-by-play announcer (Ian Eagle), radio show of the year (“The Herd with Colin Cowherd”), podcast of the year (“Pardon My Take”) and much, much more. I don’t agree with some of the picks, but that’s what makes lists like this fun.
  • Since the election, CNN has led the cable news ratings battle in both total viewers and the key 25-54 demographic. In total viewers, CNN has averaged 1.742 million, which outperformed Fox News (1.566 million) and MSNBC (1.547 million).
  • More ratings news: According to Nielsen fast national data, Sunday night’s Georgia Senate debate between Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rev. Raphael Warnock attracted more viewers on CNN than Fox News. The debate drew 2.319 million viewers on CNN and 1.53 million on Fox News. MSNBC did not air the debate.
  • Clare Malone, senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight, announced on Twitter that she was laid off. She tweeted, “So, I got laid off late last week as part of the ABC News layoffs. I won’t lie, it was a bit of a surprise, but if anything 2020 has been perspective-setting & I’m grateful for the past 5 years, if a little sad.” She also linked to some of the stories she was proud of during her time at FiveThirtyEight.

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

Clarification: This story has been updated to include that not only is Rashida Jones the first Black executive in charge of major cable TV news outlet, but the first Black executive to lead a major TV news network.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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