Former Los Angeles Times Editor Shelby Coffey III was named executive vice president of ABC News on Monday, marking the first major move by ABC News President and Chief Executive David Westin.
In the new position, Coffey, 51, who left The Times in October, will be responsible for new business and cable development, ABC News Productions, and the division’s online and international activities.
“This represents a whole new adventure,” Coffey said in a telephone interview from Orlando, Fla., where ABC is hosting its annual affiliates meeting this week.
“I still cherish the memories and cheer for the home team at the L.A. Times, and I have very good feelings about them,” said Coffey, who started his new job Monday, “but ABC News is an organization I’ve admired for a long time.”
The appointment comes on the heels of the announcement last week that Westin would be taking over day-to-day management of ABC News, succeeding Roone Arledge, who ran the division for 21 years and who remains as its chairman.
Coffey’s move to TV follows an extensive career in print journalism. He came to The Times in 1986 after stints as editor of the Dallas Times Herald and of U.S. News & World Report. From 1968 to 1985, he held a series of editorial posts at the Washington Post.
Westin said he has no doubt Coffey will get the hang of network TV news.
“The fact that an outsider is coming in is in many ways an advantage,” Westin said. “In order to have a fresh perspective, we need to have that. I also have extremely talented television producers that I can draw from. Bringing another TV person in would be like bringing ice to Eskimos.”
Coffey noted that “it certainly is not unprecedented to move from print to broadcast,” citing the example of former Times Mirror Vice Chairman and Times Publisher Tom Johnson, who left to become president of CNN in 1990.
“There’s no question that there will be a lot of interesting things to learn,” he said, “but there are strong similarities: the power of a very good idea, the analytical imperative, the strong context of stories and finding the stories behind the stories. There’s a strong investigative group like the one I helped set up at The Times. ABC has very good newsmagazine journalism. I look forward to working with all of those, as well as the day-to-day news coverage.”
Coffey said he had had several conversations with Westin, who became ABC News President in March 1997, since leaving The Times.
“He had qualities of leadership and drive that I really admired,” Coffey said of his new boss. “He’s a strong catalyst for bringing out the best in people. The more we talked, the more interesting it got in terms of the possibilities of me coming there.”
The announcement was made amid concerns at the news division over costs. The network’s overall prime-time ratings have declined over the last two seasons, and ABC management has now set cost reduction in the news division as a top priority. Among the cuts being considered are the elimination of certain news programs, including ABC’s overnight news broadcast and the Sunday edition of “Good Morning America.”
“There are challenges in broadcasting all around,” Coffey said. “The key challenge will be in the way creative responses in areas of growth are seen and seized as opportunities.”
Coffey said he and his family, who now live in La Canada Flintridge, will move to the New York area. His wife, Mary Lee, is an emergency room physician at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena.