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CBS News, still trying to find its way, is going from one president to two

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CBS is merging its national news division with its local TV stations and naming two executives to jointly run it all.

Neeraj Khemlani is joining from Hearst and Wendy McMahon is joining from ABC. Both executives worked at CBS earlier in their careers. In the new structure, they will be presidents and co-heads starting in early May.

ViacomCBS framed Thursday’s announcement as a way to “maximize the power of CBS’ newsgathering and production operations to serve audiences across all national, digital, local and global platforms.”

But the restructuring will surely raise questions about potential overlap and possible cuts, as well.

Along with long-running national programs like “60 Minutes” and the “CBS Evening News,” CBS also has 28 local stations that it owns in 17 major markets across the US, plus national and local streaming services.

Historically CBS News and the stations have operated in their own silos with relatively little interaction. And CBSN, the company’s “24/7 streaming news service,” has been run by the CBS Interactive division.

Thursday’s announcement said all of those resources will now exist within McMahon and Khemlani’s management structure.

“They will run this division as a team with each having specific areas of focus,” said George Cheeks, CEO of the CBS Entertainment Group, in an internal memo.

Staffers are now left with more questions than answers.

CBS News president Susan Zirinsky, who told staffers earlier this week that she is stepping down from the presidency but staying with the company, will continue at her post “until the new leadership has started and will assist with the transition,” CBS said in a press release. “The company is in discussions with Zirinsky for a significant role at a new CBS News Content Studio to be launched later this year.”

Cheeks said the “content studio” is “another exciting part of reimagining our CBS News brand for the future” and said he would share further details in the days ahead.

The studio is expected to supply programming for the ViacomCBS streaming service Paramount+ and other platforms.

Cheeks was known to be searching for a new head of CBS News for several months.

And he had a local stations problem to solve, too.

Two top executives from the stations group were placed on leave in January after a Los Angeles Times investigation into allegations of a toxic work culture.

Earlier this month CBS confirmed that both men would be leaving the company, leaving a leadership vacuum at the local stations, which provide valuable news coverage in major cities.

McMahon was, until Wednesday, the president of the ABC Owned Television Stations, a chief rival of CBS.

In a statement on Thursday, she said she is “excited to return home to CBS.” Earlier in her career, she worked at the CBS-owned stations WBZ in Boston and WCCO in Minneapolis.

Khemlani also invoked his history with CBS: “My time at ’60 Minutes’ and the values of CBS News were formative parts of my career, so the opportunity to return and partner with George and Wendy to lead this storied CBS brand is a privilege of the highest order.”

Since 2009, Khemlani has worked at Hearst, the media company comprised of newspapers, magazines, TV stations, and stakes in cable brands like ESPN.

His most recent position was executive vice president and deputy group head at Hearst Newspapers.

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