NBC News has tapped British television journalist Deborah Turness as its next president.
Turness, currently editor of Britain's ITV News, is taking over the position previously held by Steve Capus, who resigned from NBC News in March. She will report to Patricia Fili-Krushel, chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, which includes not just the broadcast operation but cable channels CNBC and MSNBC.
The hiring of someone not only outside of NBC News but also outside the country to replace Capus was a surprise to media insiders. Turness was not on anyone's early list of candidates for the Capus position. However, she was familiar to top brass at NBC News because it has a partnership with ITV. The two share reporters and resources in Africa and the Middle East.
Fili-Krushel also had made no secret of her desire to shake up NBC News and part of that was finding someone with no ties to the current regime.
“Deborah has built an outstanding reputation as both a journalist and business executive with a proven track record for innovation and collaboration,” said Fili-Krushel in a statement. “Her passion for the news business, combined with her creativity and vision, will be a tremendous asset to NBC News, and I’m very pleased to welcome her to the team.”
Turness said in a statement that she is "hugely excited by the opportunities that lie ahead and look forward to working with the talented journalists and technicians who make it one of the great global news operations."
First on Turness' to-do list will likely be NBC's once-powerful "Today" program. Knocked from first place by ABC's "Good Morning America," "Today" has struggled to move beyond the behind-the-scenes drama that saw Ann Curry pushed out last year in favor of Savannah Guthrie. "Today" host Matt Lauer has also taken a beating in the press in the wake of the Curry fiasco.
Reviving "Today" is only one challenge facing NBC News. The audience for broadcast TV news is on the decline as cable and the Internet continue to cut into their viewership. Figuring out how to exploit new platforms to increase viewership and revenue is a top priority. Getting NBC News to work more closely with its cable properties is another goal that Fili-Krushel has stressed. There have often been tensions between the outlets.
While not a well-known name here, Turness has a high profile in Britain, where she became the first female editor of an English TV news division. The London Evening Standard has described her as a "tough but fair livewire." The Guardian said Turness is "renowned for ripping up the rule book."
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.
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