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Coverage of Kim Godwin’s Exit from ABC News Feels Like Negative Framing

Source: Dia Dipasupil / Getty

Kim Godwin, the first Black woman to lead a major broadcast news network, has exited ABC News. She had been in the post since May 2021. As I read coverage on her departure, I noticed the language felt familiar in terms of how high-profile Black women are covered in the news. Some coverage of Black women casts Black women in a negative light where they are either portrayed as ineffective, unable to keep up, angry or overly sexual. Godwin has been portrayed as ineffective.

While there were always questions about her leadership, there was a corporate restructuring at ABC News in February 2024. Long-time Disney executive Debra O’Connell was tasked with conducting a review of Godwin and ABC News, according to CNN and other outlets. It was reported by several outlets including CNN, Variety and others that Godwin’s leadership had come under scrutiny over softening ratings, the departure of senior-level staff, several public-facing challenges and other factors. The Daily Beast called her tenure chaotic. Much of the coverage of Godwin in mainstream media referenced anonymous sources who were reportedly pleased with Godwin’s exit. Some stories went as far as to note that staff were quietly celebrating. Such language can signal to media consumers that “there is nothing to see here,” or that they should not be concerned about Godwin’s departure as few internally care.

To be clear, I have no knowledge of the culture inside ABC News or Kim Godwin’s leadership or management style. I only know what has been reported, and much of the coverage has cast Godwin in a negative light. As far back as June 2023, there were stories about layoffs at ABC News and angst over those transitions. It’s ironic that although Disney announced that it would cut 7000 staff positions, layoffs at ABC News were interpreted as Godwin’s decision and as personal; that Godwin had an ax to grind. I’ve also seen stories about Godwin jetting off to fancy events, which apparently rankled some staff amid an internal travel ban. I just wonder if her counterparts were similarly scrutinized.

This story stands out to me because it mirrors what I know about the interpretation of Black women’s leadership and because it symbolizes an ongoing challenge with diversity in media. Consider these three points:

  • Godwin’s tenure has been described as embattled. ABC News reported that she was beset by grumblings about her management style. Those stories have been one-sided. In fact, the National Association of Black Journalists released a statement about Godwin’s exit from ABC News noting that much of the coverage around her exit felt like framing. But this is consistent with how Black women’s leadership is interpreted and covered. There have been several articles written about Vice President Kamala Harris and her leadership style. Some have even suggested that she should step down as President Biden’s running mate. I had never heard of such a suggestion before a Black and Indian woman became Vice President.
  • While the details may be different, I view this story in the context of the mainstream media letting go of hires they made during the height of protests over George Floyd. Last summer, there was an exodus of Black women leaving Hollywood, senior-level Black women leaving their jobs. In 2021, Rosalind Brewer became the third Black woman to ever lead a Fortune 500 She held this post for 2 years. In 2023, Tim Wentworth, who is male and white, became the CEO of the company. Additionally, it is impossible to determine whether many of the companies that announced major investments in racial justice following Floyd’s murder fulfilled those commitments.
  • There was already a dearth of racial diversity in the media – both who’s in front of the camera, who’s behind the camera, who’s in the board rooms, and ownership of various media outlets. I know that there are limits to representation, but it is helpful to see people who look like you in high positions in each industry. This situation also underscores the lack of Black ownership in media. While Roland Martin owns the Black Star Network, and Byron Allen owns a media empire that includes The Grio and the Weather Channel, Black people do not own, to a significant degree, the vast array of media companies. There are obviously a host of Black-owned publications in communities across the country. They often lack the advertising investments that would position them to really cover the stories that matter at scale. This impacts what stories are told and how those stories are shared. Consequently, Black people often feel that we are poorly represented in the media and in popular culture.

For these reasons and more, I don’t take Godwin’s departure lightly. Her predicament is a reminder that promotion is not the end of the story. When I was a younger woman, I thought going to school, getting advanced degrees, having one impressive job position after another would safeguard a person from challenges. I’ve learned this is not the case when considering Black women or Black people. There is always someone who will question whether you belong or whether you’re capable. The truth is Black women are often forced to carve our own path as anything else feels like sinking ground.

Jennifer R. Farmer is the author of “First and Only: A Black Women’s Guide to Thriving at Work and in Life.”

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