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MSNBC Names Rashida Jones as President

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MSNBC was already preparing for a major change of president next year. Now the 24-hour cable channel and home to liberal stars like Rachel Maddow will last a second.

Phil Griffin, the MSNBC president whose left-wing shows achieved high ratings in the Trump years and shaped media brands such as “The Rachel Maddow Show” and “Morning Joe,” said February 1, after a 12-year tenure, the network will leave the network on Monday.

He will be replaced by Rashida Jones, MSNBC and NBC News senior vice president of news, who will become the first black woman to lead a major television news network. Ms. Jones, 39, currently oversees daily news coverage for the network, breaking news and specials for NBC’s broadcast news division.

Her promotion, announced by Cesar Conde, chairman of NBCUniversal News Group, is another major shake in the network’s senior leadership positions. Mr. Conde, who previously ran Telemundo, took over the news department this year after Andrew Lack left after a bumpy tenure.

Ms. Jones, who once served as the director of live programming for the Weather Channel, joined NBCUniversal seven years ago. The MSNBC staff saw the rise: starting last year, she was executive producer on two major debates that set records for a Democratic presidential contest.

Last April, she was put in charge of daily news from MSNBC, and within three months she had added weekend news to her portfolio. By the fall, Ms. Jones produced two events at City Hall with the 2020 presidential candidates and helped oversee preparation for Kristen Welker, the NBC correspondent, who hosted the second presidential debate with rave reviews.

In a memo to the staff, Mr. Conde praised Ms. Jones’ “laser-like focus and grace under pressure”. Her new role was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Ms. Jones will take control of a news network that has been rated as a safe place for liberals enraged by President Trump and is now considering how to keep those viewers after the main villain on his prime-time show has resigned from office.

She also inherits a number of network stars, some of whom are deeply loyal to Mr. Griffin, 64, the executive who joined MSNBC when it was founded in 1996 and who made up much of the station’s current cast.

In addition to handing Ms. Maddow off to prime time in 2008, Mr. Griffin was known throughout MSNBC as a masterful corporate tactician who survived numerous upheavals and even periods of sustained rating declines.

In a farewell note on Monday, Mr. Griffin recalled his more than three decades at NBC, including memories of working with Jane Pauley and Bryant Gumbel on the Today show and a nightly trip to Somalia with Tom Brokaw. (Colleagues speak highly of Mr. Griffin’s Brokaw impression.)

A vegetarian and spinning enthusiast, Mr. Griffin stood out as a boisterous manager who had a knack for managing the big ego of the television news. But he also had other pursuits: As a die-hard Mets fan with his fandom up his sleeve, Mr. Griffin is also an investor in a Manhattan sports bar called Bodega 88, which has many MSNBC Christmas parties.

Mr Griffin wrote Monday that after polling day he told the NBC leadership “it was time to hang my cleats”.

He also cited less fortunate times at MSNBC, noting that in its early days the network “struggled to break through.” He recalled former NBC chairman Bob Wright greeting him with an unflattering nickname, “Hey, Flatliner.”

When Mr Trump took office in 2017, MSNBC was on the rise again. Last month, amid bloody elections and the coronavirus resurgence, the network recorded its highest viewership in a quarter of a century.

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Robert Dunfee