NBC News Chief Steve Capus Steps Down

Steve Capus - P 2013
Rob Kim/Getty Images

Steve Capus - P 2013

UPDATED: The move comes six months after Comcast made Patricia Fili-Krushel head of all the network's news assets.

Steve Capus, whose career at NBC News has encompassed two decades and myriad world-changing events, announced Friday that we would step down as president of the network news division. 

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The move comes six months after Comcast consolidated its various news assets under a centralized unit encompassing NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC and put the new unit under the control of former NBCUniversal executive Patricia Fili-Krushel.

In an email to NBC News staffers, Capus admitted "it is an extremely difficult decision to walk away from a place that has been the backdrop for everything in my life since 1993."

He continued: "Twenty years ago this month, I was handed my first NBC News ID card by Sharon Houston and Cheryl Gould. What a thrill for this NASCAR-loving kid from suburban Philadelphia who aspired from a young age to be a DJ at a rock 'n' roll radio station."

Capus has been president of NBC News since 2005, which made him the longest-tenured network news president in an industry that has been roiled by change. He signed a new three-year deal with NBC News last year. But he was known to have been rankled by the summer shakeup that put Fili-Krushel in the management structure above him. Previously, Capus and CNBC president Mark Hoffman reported directly to NBCUni CEO Steve Burke. And that was technically a breach in Capus' contract that allowed him to exercise an option to leave. Still, Capus and Fili-Krushel, a Burke confidante, were said to have achieved a workable relationship, and some allies within the organization thought Capus had weathered the worst of the storms.

But his future at NBC News nevertheless was the subject of industrywide speculation. And the end of Capus' presidency is marked by a slip on the stranglehold of dominance that NBC News enjoyed for so long. In April, ABC's Good Morning America snapped Today's 852-week winning streak in the morning news race. And the messy ouster of co-host Ann Curry two months later produced a cascade of negative headlines, with many critics -- and viewers -- blaming Today co-host Matt Lauer. Today executive producer Jim Bell did a series of interviews during the summer taking responsibility for the decision to move Curry out of the job. But the damage already was done, and Bell -- who was pulling double duty as executive producer of NBC's coverage of the London Olympics -- exited Today in November.

Capus, who came up through the ranks of NBC's Philadelphia affiliate, where he first forged an enduring friendship with future Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, maintained good relationships with the news division's anchors. Williams is said to be particularly upset; Capus was Williams' producer when the anchorman was at MSNBC and then briefly at Nightly before being tapped to run NBC News.

In addition to Williams, Capus has close relationships with Tom Brokaw, Richard Engel, Lauer and Curry . It was Capus who gave Curry the Today co-host job over the objections of Bell. Curry, of course, already had been passed over as co-host when Meredith Vieira replaced Katie Couric in 2006. And Curry's contract, say sources, stipulated that she would get the job when Vieira left, or she could walk. After Curry was moved off of Today, it was Capus who spearheaded a new role for her at NBC News that included her own unit. "He's the only one Ann likes these days," quipped one NBC News insider.

Capus will remain at NBC News during a transition period, but it's unclear when Fili-Krushel will name a successor. Meanwhile, his direct-reports -- including MSNBC president Phil Griffin and NBC News senior vp Alex Wallace -- now will report to Fili-Krushel. Additionally, Wallace, who in the fall was given executive oversight of Today and the primetime newsmagazine Rock Center With Brian Williams, will add Nightly News to her purview, while executive producer Pat Burkey continues to run the broadcast day-to-day. In her own memo to NBC News personnel on Friday, Fili-Krushel characterized Capus as a "highly regarded leader."

"Leading NBC's News' coverage successfully for so long, Steve has proven time and again why he's considered to be among the best in the business and has been recognized with some of the industry’s highest honors -- including four Emmys and eight Edward R. Murrow Awards," Fili-Krushel wrote. "His journalistic excellence has been demonstrated over the years on a wide array of stories. In the past several months alone, he led NBC News’ coverage of the presidential election, Hurricane Sandy and the tragedy at Sandy Hook. NBC News is America’s leading source of television news, and Steve has been a big part of that success."

Here is Capus' entire memo:

Working in network news is not a solitary pursuit; it is the ultimate "team sport," in which success is derived from the collective performances of remarkable people united in purpose and dedication. I have seldom described my role as "presiding" over NBC News. Instead, I have viewed it as leading a collaborative effort to pursue journalistic excellence.

It has been a privilege to have spent two decades here, but it is now time to head in a new direction. I have informed Pat Fili-Krushel that I will be leaving NBC News in the coming weeks.

Of course, it is an extremely difficult decision to walk away from a place that has been the backdrop for everything in my life since 1993. Twenty years ago this month, I was handed my first NBC News ID card by Sharon Houston and Cheryl Gould. What a thrill for this NASCAR-loving kid from suburban Philadelphia who aspired from a young age to be a DJ at a rock 'n' roll radio station.

Instead of spinning records in a radio booth, I have thrived in some extraordinary newsrooms, working with talented teams: the NBC News Channel and NBC Nightside ... NBC News at Sunrise … TODAY… MSNBC ... The News with Brian Williams … NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw … and NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.

Side by side, we have documented the historic, the unforgettable, and the exquisitely ordinary. We have been through so much together. Working overnights, weekends, holidays. Some of the stories we have covered were crushingly sad and others were simply inspiring.

As I rewind the tape, countless events come to mind: the morning the twin towers were brought down, and the day anthrax was discovered in our newsroom; subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the Arab Spring; China taking control of Hong Kong; the death of Princess Diana; standing in the American cemetery at Normandy on D-Day's 60th anniversary; the Gulf oil disaster; hanging chads and impeachment proceedings; the launch of MSNBC on cable and the birth of online news coverage; the unmatched spectacle of the Olympics, catastrophic weather events, and even a Ford Bronco chase.

Seven and a half years ago, Jeff Zucker asked me to take over the leadership of NBC News. It was the week of Hurricane Katrina, and I soon found myself in a helicopter with Bob Wright flying over the flooded 9th Ward as people were still being plucked off their rooftops. I left New Orleans with an even deeper appreciation for what David Verdi and Stacy Brady's field crews consider "just another day in the office." Many of these individuals put their lives in danger just to bring home stories that matter. I will always have the deepest respect for them.

Thanks to my immediate predecessors, Neal Shapiro and Andy Lack, this news division was in an exceptionally strong place when I accepted this role. From that foundation, we set a course for growth and transformation. Without question, this is a different news organization in 2013 than it was back in 2005. Along with my management teams and our corporate leadership, we have re-imagined and reinvested in this news division, expanded our portfolio of platforms and extended our reach. Every step of the way, we have been confident that whatever endeavors we pursue, we are almost certain to be successful because the individual and group talents here are second to none.

I am extremely fortunate to have received constant sage advice from my mentor and cherished friend Tom Brokaw who has set the gold standard to which we all aspire.

Stretching back nearly three decades, Brian Williams and I have forged an enduring friendship. It all began in 1986 at WCAU-TV in Philadelphia and has resulted in a set of noteworthy experiences, amazing successes and a bunch of trips to NASCAR speedways. Working with Brian has been a blast.

Not a day goes by when I don’t miss Tim Russert’s boyish enthusiasm, steadfast support, and treasured phone calls, as we discussed everything from politics to baseball. The pain of losing Tim, Jeff Gralnick, David Bloom, Jeremy Little, Eric Wishnie and Mark Harrington from our ranks ... as well as my beloved mom, still endures.

I have tried to shield our journalists from the tough economic pressures hoping that would give each of you the running room to focus solely on a commitment to outstanding journalism. NBC News has grown in all key metrics -- from ratings and reputation to profitability. Through it all, we have earned the Edward R. Murrow Award for Overall Excellence six out of the last seven years. It's the premier TEAM award and, fittingly, it belongs to all of you.

MSNBC has gone from a start-up to an extremely powerful property on the cable landscape with substantial growth for seven years running. None of us who were there for the launch in 1996, when Brian was forced to hold up an atlas just to display a map, could have envisioned what MSNBC has become … but my “buddy” Phil Griffin and I view it now with tremendous pride.

Journalism is, indeed, a noble calling, and I have much I hope to accomplish in the next phase of my career. For the near term, I am excited that Sophia and I will trade this breakneck pace for watching a fast break develop in our sons' basketball games.

NBC News will continue to rest in your capable hands with the support and leadership of Steve Burke, Pat Fili-Krushel and, of course, Brian Roberts who has described NBC News as the "crown jewel" of the company. In the coming weeks, as Pat begins the search for my successor, she will be meeting with people throughout the division, and articulating her vision for the NBCUniversal News Group. In the short-term, Pat has asked me to help with the transition.

It is impossible to fully express how much I respect the people of NBC News. To call everyone "colleagues" has been a true honor ... but to call so many of you dear friends has been a true gift. Thank you for everything. I could not be prouder of what we have accomplished together.