CNN to perk with Coffey

Exec ankles ABC News for biz prexy post

After a four-month search, CNN has finally landed Lou Dobbs’ replacement as president of business news: Shelby Coffey III.

Coffey, 53, has resigned as executive VP of ABC News, which let him out of a three-year contract after 17 months. For eight years before ABC, Coffey was editor and executive VP of the Los Angeles Times, where he worked with Tom Johnson, who’s chairman, president and CEO of the CNN News Group.

Johnson had carried on a months-long flirtation with Paul Steiger, managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, to take over the CNN business-news job. But CNN had to go back to the drawing board in mid-October when Steiger decided to remain at the Journal.

Well qualified

In a conference call with reporters, Johnson said that Coffey is well-qualified for the CNN job because “he oversaw the improvement of the business section in the largest metropolitan newspaper in the nation at the time,” referring to Coffey’s 1989-97 stint at the L.A. Times.

Johnson also lauded Coffey’s editorial direction of the Times’ huge staff, which will come in handy at CNN, which has spent $50 million in upgrading the business-news staff, now numbering 370 people.

Personal approach

Coffey said one of his priorities will be “to do more consumer news and news of personal finance. So many people have 401(k)s or directly invest in the stock market. Their first question is: ‘What does this news mean to me?'”

One of Coffey’s titles is president of CNNfn, and Johnson said that “one of my biggest disappointments is that we have not managed to get more analog distribution for the network.” CNNfn reaches only about 12.5-million subscribers compared to the 71 million that pick up its main competitor, CNBC.

Johnson said the bulk of CNNfn’s future distribution could come from international markets, and, in the U.S., from office desktops and home PCs.