New CBS News Boss Looks to Right the Ship
Susan Zirinsky inherits a unit troubled by misconduct claims and lagging ratings
susan zirinsky is a veteran hand at CBS News, having worked there since the days of Watergate. But the actions she takes over the next few months will have more to do with the future of one of the nation’s best-known news outlets, not its past.
CBS on Jan. 6 said Zirinsky would become president and senior executive producer of CBS News, a title that comes with challenges as well as the usual glory. She will assume duties in March, replacing David Rhodes and becoming the first woman to run the storied division. But she takes command of CBS News after more than a year’s worth of turmoil related to fallout from the departure of former anchor Charlie Rose and former CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, both ousted after sexual misconduct allegations that both have denied.
During that time, some of CBS News’ top properties — “CBS This Morning,”“face the Nation” and “CBS Evening News” — have seen their ratings slump after executives tinkered with anchor lineups. Zirinsky will have to find ways to fix those programs while moving the division forward in an era when more news junkies are finding digital ways to soothe their fix.
“Our goal is to grow the audience through the quality of the content to every broadcast, and really energize a competitive spirit that’s already here,” Zirinsky told Variety in an interview.“but you have to have some time.”
CBS News opted to replace Rose at “CBS This Morning” with John Dickerson of “Face the Nation.” Dickerson was in turn succeeded by Margaret Brennan. Viewership has suffered at both programs. “CBS This Morning” is particularly a concern, because in recent years it had been a growth story for a news division once famous for not being able to mount a competitive a.m. show. What’s more, morning-news programs often generate a good chunk of the revenue needed to support the bulk of broadcast-network newsgathering activities.
Meanwhile, the decision to replace Scott Pelley at “CBS Evening News” with Jeff Glor has not resulted in new audience. Indeed, the program has lost viewers and fallen further behind its evening-news rivals at NBC and ABC. “60 Minutes” (on which Pelley now contributes full-time) and “CBS Sunday Morning” have remained stable, with the former getting some of TV’S top viewership numbers, even though the show continues to operate without a permanent show-