New structure at CBS News looks for balance between tradition and change
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In restructuring CBS’ news division, the network and its chief executive, Leslie Moonves, want to have their cake and eat it too.
By naming veteran ’60 Minutes’ Executive Producer Jeff Fager, 56, chairman of CBS News, Moonves installs at the top an executive with almost three decades of experience at the company. He has solid relationships with the talent at ’60 Minutes’ and used to run the network’s nightly newscast as well. He started at CBS when Bill Paley, the man who built the company, was still roaming around its Black Rock headquarters on West 52nd Street.
While Fager is a sign of continuity and tradition for CBS News, Moonves also wants to shake things up. To do that he went outside the company and for a new president and tapped David Rhodes, 37, who has spent his entire career in cable, first at Fox News and most recently with Bloomberg. The duo takes over management of CBS News from Sean McManus, who will return full time to sports as chairman of that unit.
In announcing the hiring of Rhodes, Moonves stressed that he would bring new thinking to the network. In his statements about Rhodes, the CBS CEO called him a ‘dynamic new voice’ who would bring ‘fresh insights and a new point of view on the way we do things.’
At Bloomberg, Rhodes was involved in overseeing the news-gathering operations for the company’s cable channel. When he was at Fox News, Rhodes rose from a production assistant to vice president of news. He is the brother of Ben Rhodes, a speechwriter for President Obama.
Fager and Rhodes have spent the last month getting better acquainted with each other. CBS has said that Fager, who will continue to run ’60 Minutes,’ will have oversight over the editorial direction of CBS News both on-air and online. Rhodes will be in charge of the day-to-day operations.
In an interview, Rhodes was steered clear of discussing any specific plans he had in mind for CBS News. He did say he was interested in borrowing a page from Bloomberg and knocking down walls in the newsroom to ‘encourage collaboration and interaction between reporters and management.’
One of the first issues Fager and Rhodes will face is the future of Katie Couric as anchor of the ‘CBS Evening News.’ Couric, whose five-year contract expires in May, has not indicated whether she is interested in staying.
Asked about Couric’s status, Fager said he would “need to spend time with her to see what she is thinking … and what is best for CBS News.”
-- Joe Flint