From Back Lawrence to a top network job

Five Towns native Susan Zirinsky is the first woman to lead CBS News

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Founded in September of 1927, CBS News had never been lead by a woman; at least it hadn’t until Jan. 6, when the television network announced that Five Towns native Susan Zirinsky would become the new president and senior executive producer of the news division in March. Her birthday is March 3.

Zirinsky, 66, lived in Back Lawrence and graduated from Lawrence High School in 1970. Two years later she began working as a part-time desk assistant at the Washington bureau of CBS News while attending American University. She started two weeks after the break-in at the Watergate Hotel in June of 1972.

She was alone in the Washington newsroom on the night of Oct. 20, 1973, when the story broke that President Richard Nixon’s Attorney General Eliot Richardson resigned after refusing to fire the independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox, in what became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre” that lead Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to resign as well.

“I have been honored to work closely throughout my career with great CBS News journalists,” Zirinsky said in a network news release. “This may be a new role, but the mission is the same: deliver quality, in-depth journalism and engaging storytelling. CBS News has an incredible legacy to build on. The public’s interest today for news and information is intense, and CBS News is uniquely positioned to expand its reach.”

Besides being in the right place at the right time, Zirinsky is known being the inspiration for actress Holly Hunter’s character in the 1987 film “Broadcast News” after being interviewed by writer and producer James L. Brooks, when she was covering the 1984 Democratic National Convention.

“Susan was one of the nicest people, always friendly to everyone,” said Penny Schuster, who graduated from Lawrence High in the same year as Zirinsky. “As a fellow Lawrencian, it’s a thrill to see a classmate succeed like this. Everyone on Facebook has been very excited.”

Zirinsky is the senior executive producer of “48 Hours,” a documentary-style news program, as well as “48 Hours: NCIS” that looks at cases handled by the United States Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the CBS prime time series “Whistleblower.”

In his announcement, president and acting CEO of the CBS Corporation, Joe Ianniello, said” “No broadcast news producer is more highly respected and admired than Susan Zirinsky.”

Over four decades at CBS News, Zirinsky has covered the Gulf War, the student uprising in Tiananmen Square, the 9/11 attacks, the Paris terrorist attacks and the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. She also spent 10 years covering the White House.

Zirinsky will be succeeding David Rhodes, who at 37 became the youngest network news president in the history of American television in 2011. “The new year is a time for renewal, for new goals,” Rhodes said in an email to the staff. “The world we cover is changing, how we cover it is changing — and it’s the right time for me to make a change too.”

Zirinsky’s promotion comes among several other personnel moves for the network. Longtime chief executive Leslie Moonves and morning show anchor Charlie Rose were forced out in September of 2018 and November of 2017, respectively, after multiple accusations of sexual misconduct were made against each of them.