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NBC News names Whitaker senior VP

Former Newsweek editor joins network

NBC News has named former Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker as the No. 2 exec in charge of the division, reporting to prexy Steve Capus.

Whitaker will become NBC’s top exec in charge of newsgathering, overseeing daily editorial decisions and developing divisionwide specials as well as content for MSNBC.com.

As editor of Newsweek from 1998-2006, Whitaker oversaw the strategic relationship between the newsmag and MSNBC.com, developing working relationships with NBC News execs.

MSNBC.com hosts Newsweek’s Web site, and Newsweek reporters such as Jonathan Alter, Howard Fineman and Richard Wolffe are frequent guests on MSNBC and NBC News programs.

Whitaker joins at a hectic time for the news division, which in quick succession had to deal with the flap over Don Imus and then what to do with the video manifesto mailed to the network by the Virginia Tech shooter Seung Hui Cho.

“I think (Capus) did the right thing in the Imus and Virginia Tech case,” Whitaker said. “But it shows you he has a lot on his plate, and I hope I can take some of it off.”

Whitaker will be a senior vice president at NBC News, filling a job once held by Bill Wheatley. After Wheatley’s retirement in 2005, Capus held the job briefly until he was bumped up to president of the division.

Alex Wallace also held the post before becoming executive producer of “Nightly News With Brian Williams.”

Whitaker steps into an evening news race that is as close as its been since ABC lost anchor Peter Jennings to lung cancer in 2005.

Williams has held the lead since he succeeded Tom Brokaw in 2004, but ABC’s Charles Gibson has won eight of the past 12 weeks in total viewers.

“World News With Charles Gibson” won last week with an average of 8.2 million viewers vs. 7.9 million for NBC’s “Nightly News.” CBS’ “Evening News With Katie Couric” was a distant third with 6.4 million, according to Nielsen Media Research.

When not leading the news operation on a daily basis, Whitaker will be charged with planning for the future, including developing specials for the network, which could involve other NBC News assets such as MSNBC and “Dateline.”

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