Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Can A Shelby Coffey Make It in TV Land?

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Can A Shelby Coffey Make It in TV Land?

Article excerpt

Wolper is a professor of journalism at the Newark. N.J., campus of Rutgers University.

Before the interview began, Coffey took a tape recorder from his desk and asked, apologetically, if he could transcribe his conversation with E&P's reporter

FULL-COLOR PICTURES of Ted, Cokie, Peter, Diane and Sam adorn the wall of the fifth floor reception area at ABC-TV News, a reminder to visitors of the power of celebrity newscasters.

"Those people speak with an authority and interview with an authority that comes from experience and hard work," said Shelby Coffey III, the new executive vice president of ABC News. "That is why they are so successful."

Not long ago, Coffey was starting his third week as vice president of ABC News after ending a nine-year run as editor and executive vice president of the Los Angeles Times.

His resume is all print: 18 years at the Washington Post where he became the national news editor, then the top jobs of Dallas Times Herald and US. News and World Report.

Coffey understands the dynamics of his new position. Before the interview began, he took a tape recorder from his desk, and asked, apologetically, if he could transcribe what turned out to be a 45-minute conversation.


"My basic job description is to help David Westin," Coffey said, speaking of the recently crowned president of ABC News. "On editorial issues, organizational issues, including ABC News productions."

David Shaw, the media critic for the Los Angeles Times, worries that the sniping and political infighting that has plagued ABC the past few years might destroy his old boss.

"He is going into a much more competitive position than the one he had at the Los Angeles Times," Shaw said in a telephone interview from his West Coast home. "The media (television) is so different. The competition is more fierce. There are more high-level executives in television than there are in newspapers."

"Shelby has very sound journalistic standards." Shaw continued. "He is a very careful, decent, honorable person who might get chewed up in the dog-eat-dog world of television.

"He tried so hard to be fair when he was here that the paper got criticized for it.

"He would be good for the ABC News division. I'm not sure what authority he has, but he has the ability to make the (20/20 and PrimeTime Live) magazine shows better than they are."

Shaw's analysis was on the mark.


Coffey was pummeled last month by an anonymous ABC News correspondent in a New York magazine piece on Westin's ascendancy to the throne of ABC News. Westin, an attorney, became ABCs chief news executive on June 1.

"Oh great," the correspondent told New York. "We've got a guy who doesn't know news (Westin) hiring a guy who doesn't know TV."

Coffey, however, notes he has been analyzing television news since the early 1970s when Roone Arledge, then the network's chief sports executive, took over the network news operation.

"I was running the style section at the Washington Post when that happened (Arledge took over)," Coffey recalled. "It became a big story and it was one that was ongoing. I've been watching and paying attention to ABC News ever since."

Coffey is working to avoid any internal squabbles, meeting frequently with news staffers and executives in what has become an analysis of the entire news operation, and has a good word to say about everybody. …

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