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ABC News Chief Kim Godwin Calls It Quits After Tumultuous Reign

Insiders hail the end of her “reign of error.”

Kim Godwin, the first black woman to lead a major broadcast network news division, is calling it a day. And what a day it’s been. Her reign as head honcho of such well-known news programs as Good Morning America (GMA) and World News Tonight comes to an end after what many say was a tumultuous three-year period of grumbling and angst.

It couldn’t have been an easy ride for Godwin. Newsrooms are typically hotbeds of gossip, backbiting, and ego-driven conflicts. Unfortunately, much of the misery and chaos inside the ABC newsroom was leaked to other media outlets during Godwin’s tenure, and it didn’t paint a pretty picture. The grumbling must have reached the ABC brass because network executives dropped Godwin down a peg in the corporate hierarchy three months ago by appointing Debra OConnell as president of News Group and Networks at Disney Entertainment. Disney owns and operates the ABC network. Reportedly, Disney’s corporate restructuring left Godwin “apoplectic,” signaling that – one way or another — her days as ABC news chief were numbered.

In a business whose main currency is anonymous sources, a plethora of ABC News staffers have been taking public swipes at Godwin for some time now. Whether true or not, they made landfall in various media outlets. In breaking the news of the Florida A&M grad’s departure, The Wall Street Journal reported, “Critics said Godwin seemed more focused on boosting her profile than in the grind of running a news division.”

But that was only the outer edge of the newsroom sniping: The tipping point came “after it was reported that the veteran newswoman told people in a meeting that Black people don’t watch the news, an astonishing claim that first came to light via two reports in Puck and CNN’s Reliable Sources newsletter,” according to an article in The Daily Beast. They also described her tenure at ABC as “marred by scandals, missteps, and internal strife.”

ABC News — Upheaval and Disorder

Last year, ABC News had to let 50 staffers go, and while its signature programs, GMA and World News Tonight, are still ahead of CBS and NBC, the ratings aren’t as high as they had been. But even a slight slippage in network ratings means trouble for a news executive like Godwin. Still, one has to think that the dismal newsroom atmosphere must have had at least as much to do with Godwin’s departure as the ratings. As the WSJ put it:

“Though the news division was a ratings leader, many in the news division said it was suffering from a cutthroat and toxic culture.

“She [Godwin] instead became a polarizing figure inside the network. Detractors say she and her inner circle stifled discussion and dissent while failing to rise up to challenges facing the unit including a decline in ratings at ‘Good Morning America.’”

News of Godwin’s departure reached the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), which quickly issued a statement in her defense:

“Those supporters have told NABJ that they see the attacks, perpetrated through media reports, as ‘racially motivated’ or in reaction to her not being in what some in the industry call the ‘good old boy network’ of players.

“NABJ is extremely disappointed to see such a reckless, unbalanced, and unfair style of reporting, as demonstrated in other stories that do not have alternative viewpoints and, in some cases, have racially insensitive language … ”

The Wall Street Journal also threw Godwin a bouquet, saying, “Others also credited her with cultivating a more welcoming newsroom environment for staff and dismantling a clubby culture that was detrimental to morale.”

Whatever the reason Godwin stepped down from her perch to make a final exit from the broadcast news business, it appears she left behind both friend and foe at ABC News.

Read More From Leesa K. Donner

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