Embattled ABC News President Kim Godwin steps down after tumultuous run

May 6, 2024, 2:27 PM

Kim Godwin, the embattled president of ABC News, abruptly announced May 5 that she will exit the ne...

Kim Godwin, the embattled president of ABC News, abruptly announced May 5 that she will exit the network. Godwin is pictured here in May 2022 in New York City. (NDZ/STAR MAX/IPx/AP)


New York (CNN)Kim Godwin, the embattled president of ABC News, abruptly announced Sunday evening that she will exit the network, capping a tumultuous three-year run at the outlet after staffers said her polarizing leadership led to plummeting employee morale.

“I have decided to retire from broadcast journalism,” Godwin told staffers in a memo that rocked the ABC News newsroom.

“I have been fortunate and blessed enough to have done almost every job there is in this business,” Godwin added. “But after considerable reflection, I’m certain it’s the right one for me as I look to the future and prioritize what’s most important for me and my family.”

Godwin’s sudden exit came after CNN reported earlier this week that Debra OConnell, the Disney veteran who was tapped in February to oversee ABC News as part of her portfolio, was conducting a review of her performance and had voiced dissatisfaction in private conversations with the state of affairs at the network.

Morale at ABC News has suffered significantly since Godwin took the helm in 2021, with employees frustrated with her leadership, more than two dozen staffers and others close to the network told CNN this week. The staffers spoke to CNN under the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Godwin, staffers told CNN, made several profound errors, including employing a hands-off approach to managing, not developing a strategic vision for the newsroom, eliminating the heads of the talent-relations division and appointing an inner-circle that alienated staffers, among a stream of other complaints. Moreover, while ABC’s flagship morning show “Good Morning America” continues to be a ratings success, it has slipped in viewership in recent months and has flirted with “CBS Mornings” for third place, raising alarms among staffers.

Godwin’s allies who spoke to CNN in recent days argued that she employed a different type of leadership style than the network’s staffers had grown accustomed to under previous leadership, who had taken a more hands-on approach. But even her allies acknowledged that she perhaps wasn’t a good fit to lead the network.

OConnell told employees in a memo that “for the time being,” she will oversee the network. Thanking staffers for their “patience and understanding through this period of transition,” OConnell said she is “looking forward to working with the leadership team as we forge a new path forward together.

“Since assuming this role in February, my goal has been — and will continue to be — to provide this team with the means necessary to build on our success and carry on the proud tradition of ABC News into a future full of opportunity and innovation,” OConnell said.

Over the last few months, complaints about Godwin had made their way to OConnell, who also privately voiced frustration with Godwin’s leadership and inquired with industry figures about who to install into the C-suite to help repair the damage, according to people familiar with the conversations. Initial inquires had also been made with potential candidates who might be interested in assuming the post of network president in a post-Godwin era, people familiar with the matter told CNN.

Ironically, Godwin entered ABC News three years ago as the first Black woman to lead a broadcast television news division with the mandate of healing its culture, only to exacerbate its problems and help sap the competitive spirit that once coursed through and animated the newsroom.

It was not clear when the decision was made for Godwin and ABC News to part ways, but Godwin as recently as Friday was leading editorial meetings at the Disney-owned network.

Disney announced in February that Godwin had renewed her contract to lead ABC News, even as the company installed OConnell in a new role overseeing her portfolio — a sign that chief executive Bob Iger had doubts about Godwin’s stewardship of the news division. After OConnell was appointed, Godwin privately voiced displeasure about being layered away from Iger and bemoaned what she called Disney’s micromanagement. A spokesperson for Disney declined to say on Sunday whether the company would pay out the remainder of her contract.

“I leave with my head held high and wish the entire team continued success,” Godwin wrote in her note to staff.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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Embattled ABC News President Kim Godwin steps down after tumultuous run