Neeraj Khemlani and Wendy McMahon have been named to lead a new unit that combines CBS News and CBS local stations, one of the first big recalibrations of company assets by George Cheeks, the executive charged with oversight of ViacomCBS’ CBS operations.
Khemlani, a senior executive at Hearst Newspapers, and McMahon, who had been overseeing ABC stations, will be charged with both raising the competitive level of a news organization that has faced challenges in the modern era when it comes to vying with rivals like ABC News and NBC New,s and pushing forward a station group that has often lagged its competitive set.
“The unified division will bring together the power of CBS News, our 28 owned stations in 17 major U.S. markets, CBSN, our growing CBSN Local platforms, local websites and cbsnews.com under one roof, opening new opportunities and valuable paths to growth in the future,” Cheeks said Thursday in a memo to staffers. “It will maximize the power of our newsgathering and production operations to serve audiences across all national, digital, local and global platform.”
The pair will take the reins of CBS News from Susan Zirinsky, a veteran CBS News producer who led the unit during a fraught time, tried to stabilize morale and revamped many of the network’s flagship programs. Zirinsky is expected to enter into a new production deal with parent company ViacomCBS that will allow her to create non-fiction programming for CBS News, CBSN and the company’s new Paramount Plus streaming hub under a deal with an entity called the “CBS News Content Studio.”
She is expected to remain at the helm of CBS News until the new executives start.
And they take oversight of CBS’ stations from Peter Dunn, a veteran executive who supervised CBS stations for years, but departed recently amid a probe into allegations about his behavior toward female employees and people of color. Dunn has denied the claims through his attorney.
CBS has in recent years created a live-streaming service, CBSN, that relies on the newsgathering of not only CBS News, but journalists in its local markets. The company has supplemented its national live-stream with individual feeds from its various stations in cities including New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Atlanta.
“All of us are experiencing a business and content landscape where the wants and habits of our consumers evolve by the day,” said Cheeks. “We need to transform with them to ensure every part of the organization and our talented colleagues are set up to succeed.”
Both executives have prior experience working at CBS. Khemlani as a producer at “60 Minutes” and “60 Minutes II” for eight years while McMahon worked seven years at Boston station WBZ and Minneapolis’ WCCO.
McMahon was named president of ABC’s stations in 2017. Prior to that, she was senior vice president of ABC Digital, where she helped launch some of the division’s connected TV apps. Khemlani was most recently executive vice president and deputy group head at Hearst Newspapers. He has also supervised the Hearst division that oversees the company’s partnerships with ESPN and A+E Networks. As a producer, he has worked with Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and Bob Simon.