It was just over a year ago that CBS combined its news and stations departments, with Wendy McMahon and Neeraj Khemlani overseeing the unified group. McMahon had been president of ABC Owned Stations since 2018, but was eager to get back to CBS, where she’d been a creative services director at WBZ Boston and WCCO Minneapolis.
She was intrigued by the unified model drawn up by George Cheeks, CBS president and CEO. “He understood that the audience has evolved in terms of how they consume news,” McMahon said. “The broadcast organizational model had not evolved much. He built a blueprint for that when one hadn’t existed.”
Starting in May 2021, McMahon oversees 27 CBS stations and 13 local news OTT platforms, while Khemlani has oversight of CBS News. McMahon is in Los Angeles and Khemlani is in New York, but the two work closely to ensure that CBS’s news-producing outlets are connecting with viewers, and users, on all platforms and on both a national and local level. “We speak daily and we text even more,” McMahon said. “Neeraj and I get along incredibly well. It’s based on respect and trust — we both have respect for what our prior experiences were. We understand what each other brings to the respective table, and lean on each other for guidance and consideration.”
McMahon spent nearly a dozen years at The Walt Disney Co., starting as VP of marketing and promotion at KABC Los Angeles, shifting to senior VP of ABC digital in 2015, and taking over the elite station group at the start of 2018. In 2020, the eight-station group was given B+C’s Station Group of the Year honors.
McMahon credits Rebecca Campbell, the previous president of ABC’s stations, for being a mentor. “Culture and people are always No. 1 for Rebecca,” McMahon said. “People are the reason the entire organization works or doesn’t work.”
The first woman to run the CBS station group, McMahon is an active mentor herself, offering guidance to aspiring young news professionals she works with, and plenty that she’s never met. By doing so, she’s doing good for others, and often doing good for the group she oversees. “The connection I can make that may enable someone to realize their career at one of our stations, that’s really important to me,” McMahon said. “That’s why the time investment is so very worth it.”
McMahon has worked to make the station group more diverse, on both sides of the camera and in leadership positions. This year, CBS Stations is increasing its local news streaming hours from 30,000 to 45,000.
Cheeks said the group is well-positioned for the future thanks to McMahon’s early moves. “Wendy is an outstanding executive, leader and innovator who has made a big impact at CBS News and Stations in a very short time,” he said. “Her close collaboration with Neeraj Khemlani has led to important strategic changes to better position local and national news for its streaming news future while maintaining CBS’s journalistic and storytelling values.”
All News Is Local
Most every national story is, at its heart, a local story, and the unified CBS group means both CBS News and a station in a market where major news has happened can dive deep to find the facts for their respective audience. “On a daily basis, we’re leveraging one another’s strengths to enhance audience and drive storytelling,” McMahon said. “We know what makes a city, what makes a community tick, and there’s real value to that when there’s a big story.”
CBS Stations is building a news organization in Detroit, where WWJ plans to launch a regular slate of news, on air and online, in the fall. “We are literally building an entire newsroom there,” she said, a rare chance to do so based on how people consume news in 2022 and beyond.
Cheeks said McMahon’s passion is contagious. “Wendy leads with clarity, enthusiasm and empathy, which generates positive momentum in all areas of her work, and shows that she can take on any challenge,” he said. “At the local level, she has our stations laser-focused on content, community and culture as their core values and the progress is palpable.”
It has been an eventful first year, and McMahon is just getting started. “We reset the entire group so very quickly and so very urgently,” she said. “But it was oh so necessary.” ▪️
Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.
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