Cesar Conde, chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, said in a memo to staffers that Griffin will retire early next year and Jones will become president on February 1.
“After the presidential election, Phil and I spoke about his desire to depart at a time of his choosing and when he felt confident about the strength of the network he loves,” Conde wrote in a memo to staffers.
Griffin has been with MSNBC since it was launched almost 25 years ago, and has served as president since 2008. Conde wrote that Griffin “has built something remarkable. He leaves the network in the best shape it has ever been. Six straight record years. Each one better than the last.”
Jones (not to be confused with the actress of the same name) has been a rising star at the network, and in April was named to a new role overseeing daytime programming in addition to serving as senior VP of specials for NBC News and MSNBC.
“Rashida knows and understands MSNBC, in part because it’s where she started when she first joined NBCU seven years ago,” Conde wrote. “She knows that it is the people who work here that make it great, and she understands its culture. She also appreciates the impact and potential of the brand.”
The changes are the latest at NBCUniversal’s news properties. In May, Conde took on the role of chairman of NBCUniversal News Group, which includes NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC, in a restructuring after Andrew Lack announced that he was stepping down as NBC News Group president.
Jones will be the first Black executive to lead one of the major cable news networks. She has led breaking news and event coverage at the network, including election night and presidential debates. In an interview with MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski in October, said said of the challenge of covering breaking news during the Covid-19 pandemic, “If you would’ve told me in January that we were moving the entire organization to their bedrooms and living rooms, I would have laughed. But now it has become so seamless. It’s unbelievable what we’ve been able to do.”
Before she joined NBC News, Jones was the news director for the NBC affiliate in Columbia, SC, and also served as director of live programming for The Weather Channel. She is a graduate of Hampton University.
Griffin, 64, had been executive producer for Chris Matthews’ and Keith Olbermann’s shows and later was senior vice president at NBC News, with oversight over Today and later MSNBC, before becoming president of the news network. During his tenure, MSNBC has launched two of its most popular shows, Morning Joe and The Rachel Maddow Show, and the network also has added shows with Chris Hayes and Nicolle Wallace. Earlier this year, Hardball with Chris Matthews ended after more than 20 years, and was replaced by ReidOut with Joy Reid. The network had embraced a leftward branding of “Lean Forward” for a number of years before an overhaul in 2015 that saw a greater focus on hard news and NBC News journalists during the day.
One of Jones’ biggest challenges will be to retain viewership in a non-presidential election year and following the departure of Donald Trump from the White House. The network and its rivals saw record viewership in November, with coverage of Election Night and its aftermath, but there’s some expectation that those levels will abate when Joe Biden moves into the White House.
The Wall Street Journal first reported on Griffin’s plans to depart and on Jones’ new role.
Conde’s full memo is below:
I’m writing today with the kind of news that – in normal times – would be quickly followed by farewell parties, warm toasts, and reminiscent speeches.
Phil Griffin has shared with me his decision to leave MSNBC early next year.
After the presidential election, Phil and I spoke about his desire to depart at a time of his choosing and when he felt confident about the strength of the network he loves.
Phil is as much a part of the NBC News & MSNBC family as anyone in our storied history. He started thirty-five years ago as a producer on TODAY, and has been with MSNBC for twenty-five years – since its founding.
At MSNBC, Phil has built something remarkable. He leaves the network in the best shape it has ever been. Six straight record years. Each one better than the last. An extraordinary roster of anchors, journalists, producers, contributors and many more who each day create smart, in-depth news, analysis and perspective and do it in a way that is distinctive in the cable news environment – with humanity that pops through the screen. That’s no coincidence.
Anyone who knows Phil well, understands that he has many interests and passions outside news – and he is energized right now by the prospect of being able to participate in them professionally. Even though COVID will – for now – prevent us from celebrating Phil in person (and exchanging his trademark high-fives), we will find the right ways to honor his NBC career, share stories, and wish him the best of luck in his next professional adventure. We have some time, as he has agreed to stay on through the end of January to ensure a smooth transition.
Today, MSNBC is not just a cable news network but a news brand that has unlimited opportunities to grow, deepen its relationship with the news audience, and thrive in a world defined by mobile, digital and streaming. I’m delighted to share with you that the person whom I have appointed to lead us forward into that new era is someone we all know very well.
Rashida Jones will be the next President of MSNBC, effective February 1.
Rashida knows and understands MSNBC, in part because it’s where she started when she first joined NBCU seven years ago. She knows that it is the people who work here that make it great, and she understands its culture. She also appreciates the impact and potential of the brand.
As you know, Rashida currently leads coverage of breaking news and major events across NBC News and MSNBC, in addition to overseeing dayside and weekends news programming on MSNBC. In the last year alone that has meant, of course, that she has masterfully guided our coverage of the global pandemic, the social justice protests and unrest, Decision 2020, and the two most-viewed Democratic presidential debates in television history. She helped lead the preparation for Kristen Welker’s role as general election debate moderator. And she has steered many of our groundbreaking editorial series, including Justice for All and Climate in Crisis.
If you’ve worked with Rashida on any of those endeavors, you know that she has an outstanding track-record and she leads with a laser-like focus and grace under pressure. I know she will be an excellent leader for MSNBC.
Please join me in congratulating Phil on an extraordinary career at NBCU, and wishing Rashida great success in this new role.