Noah Oppenheim, president of NBC News since early 2017, will leave the organization in an unorthodox shake-up that will elevate three different executives, effectively separating the massive news outlet into different pieces, all of which will report to Cesar Conde, chairman of NBCUniversal’s portfolio of news assets.
Under a new structure, Libby Leist, the NBC News executive who oversees “Today,” and Janelle Rodriguez, the NBC News executive who supervises the streaming outlet NBC News Now, will both report to Conde. They will be joined by Rebecca Blumenstein, a senior editor at The New York Times who will take up the role of president of editorial for NBC News and who will also report to Conde. Blumenstein is charged with oversight of editorial, news gathering, bureaus, field operations, booking, “Meet the Press,” “Dateline,” and NBC News Studios.
The reorganization means that NBC News’ most popular programs will no longer be under the oversight of a single editorial executive. “Today” will continue to be led by Leist, while Rodriguez will oversee “NBC Nightly News.” The New York Times previously reported Blumenstein’s move to NBC and Oppenheim’s decision to step down.
News organizations face a different set of challenges than they have in the past, given the disruption forced upon them by streaming video and social media. Since taking the reins of NBCUniversal’s news operations in May of 2020, Conde has spurred the development of a portfolio of different products, some ad-supported, some subscription-based. The separation of different assets under specific executives might allow each to guide them on their own bespoke strategy.
Speculation about Oppenheim’s departure has swirled among agents and NBC News personnel for weeks, though NBC News spokespeople have professed to have no knowledge of the matter. But the executive, who had carved out a career as a screenwriter before rejoining NBC News to take the helm of “Today” in 2015, has been in talks with NBCUniversal on a departure plan since the fall, according to a person familiar with the situation. He is known to have several projects in the works with other parts of NBCUniversal, including a potential series based on the news business. He is also at work on a project for Netflix that involves actor Robert DeNiro.
“After two years overseeing Today, and almost six years leading NBC News, I’ve decided it’s time for me to return to my other love — writing and producing TV and movies. I leave with enormous pride in all that we’ve accomplished together,” Oppenheim said in a memo on Wednesday. He added that he would “remain part of the NBCU family moving forward. Soon, I’ll be launching a new venture with our colleagues in television and film on the west coast. More to come on that.”
His departure means that Conde will have installed new senior executives at all three of NBCUniversal’s major news divisions. Rashida Jones replaced Phil Griffin as head of MSNBC in 2020, while KC Sullivan, a longtime NBCU business executive, was assigned oversight of CNBC last year, replacing longtime head Mark Hoffman.
Blumenstein, also a veteran of The Wall Street Journal, is the new figure in the mix. She has been given direct oversight over the crux of newsgathering, along with a few shows that have expanded in recent years to encompass new-era products like podcasts and documentaries. Even so, she takes oversight of operations that already have senior executives at their helm. NBC News Studios has been led by Liz Cole, a veteran of “Dateline” who has rapidly worked to expand into documentary films and even a new MSNBC series led by actor John Leguizamo. Operations at “Meet The Press” have been supervised by Carrie Budoff Brown, a former top editor at Politico. What’s more, NBC News recently elevated Catherine Kim to be senior vice president of editorial, and tasked her with supervising newsgathering units across both digital and TV.
Oppenheim’s second tenure at NBC News — he previously worked there as a producer — has been turbulent. Not only has had to direct a division at a time when the economics of TV-news are being disrupted by new consumer habits, but he had to lead NBC News through a host of controversies, including the ill-fated hiring of Megyn Kelly from Fox News — a move championed by former NBC News chairman Andy Lack — and a public skirmish with journalist Ronan Farrow over reporting on disgraced movie kingpin Harvey Weinstein.
But there’s no denying the news unit has expanded. Under Oppenheim’s oversight, NBC News has widened its involvement in podcasts and streaming, creating a bespoke version of “NBC Nightly News” for kids and several different digital products from “Today.” NBC News hired an array of reporters from print outlets to help cover politics, technology and business for digital and linear venues. Oppenheim also gets some credit for steadying “Today” after it lost ground to ABC’s’ “Good Morning America” due to botched host transition that occurred before he returned to NBC.
In a memo, Conde told staffers that NBC News Group has sought “to stay ahead of the many changes in the technology that delivers the news, and rapidly shifting consumer habits” and needs “to prepare for a future in which we build on our role as the nation’s most viewed news organization and seize the growth opportunity in front of us.” Three executives and the senior staffers who report to them now have to put that directive into practice.