Bill Small, Former Top News Executive at CBS and NBC, Dies at 93

Bill Small - Publicity handout - H 2020
Marc Bryan-Brown/Courtesy NATAS

He made his mark as a Washington bureau chief and served as president of United Press International.

Bill Small, the former Washington bureau chief for CBS News and president of NBC News, died Sunday in a New York hospital after a brief illness unrelated to the coronavirus, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced. He was 93.

Small led CBS' news operations in the nation's capital from 1962-74. He recruited Eric Sevareid, Marvin Kalb, Daniel Schorr, Harry Reasoner and Dan Rather from within the division and gave many producers and reporters their first commercial network news positions; those included Bob Schieffer, Ed Bradley, Bernard Shaw, Bill Moyers, Bernard Kalb and Tom Bettag.

Meanwhile, Diane Sawyer, Lesley Stahl, Susan Zirinsky, Connie Chung, Martha Teichner and Rita Braver were among the women brought into the profession during his tenure.

"Bill Small was a hero to journalism," CBS News president Susan Zirinsky said Monday in a statement. "He hired me as a 20-year-old college student to work the weekend desk in the Washington bureau two weeks after the Watergate break-in. He was tough as nails when it came to defending freedom of the press. He was strict, strong and full of conviction. But the man had a heart of gold — which he only revealed one-third of the time."

From D.C., Small oversaw coverage of the assassination and funeral of John F. Kennedy; the civil rights movement, including the March on Washington and the Senate filibuster of the 1964 Civil Rights Act; the escalation of the war in Vietnam; President Richard Nixon's trip to China in 1972; and Watergate.

After a stint in New York with CBS News, Small in 1979 was named president of NBC News. There, he facilitated the transition of Tom Brokaw from host of the Today show to co-anchor of the NBC Nightly News with Mudd, who had followed him from CBS, and presided over coverage of the Iran hostage crisis.

Months after he resigned in 1982, he was hired as president of United Press International, then the nation's second-largest news agency, and stayed through 1984.

From 1986-99, Small was the Felix E. Larkin Professor of Communications at Fordham University, where he developed an MBA program in media management. He also was dean of its graduate business school from 1992-94.

Small served as chairman of the News & Documentary Emmy Awards from 2000-10. In 2014, he received a lifetime achievement award from the organization.

"Bill Small was one of the 'greats' of our television news industry," NATAS chairman Terry O'Reilly said in a statement. "In his time as a news executive at both NBC and CBS, he had an uncanny eye for talent and unwavering dedication to journalism." 

A native of Chicago, Small wrote the books To Kill a Messenger: Television and the Real World and Political Power and the Press, published in 1970 and 1972, respectively.

Survivors include his daughters, Tamar and Willa, and six grandchildren.