I was on stage with Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the producer and director of Miss Representation, on Friday just after the news broke that Christina Norman was out as CEO of Oprah Winfrey's new TV network, OWN.
What an odd coincidence, since Newsom's documentary explores the dearth of women in "clout positions" in the mainstream media. Newsom says that this number is 3%.
Clearly, it is getting worse.
The day before Norman, a former president of MTV, got the boot at OWN, MTV Networks CEO Judy McGrath unexpectedly quit Viacom (VIA) -- frustrated by a series of moves by her boss, Viacom CEO Philippe Daumon, to limit her creative license and authority over the company's biggest and most profitable division.
The fall of McGrath and Norman follows the March ouster of Vivian Schiller from the top job at NPR and the April dismissal of Reader's Digest CEO Mary Berner.
Meanwhile, the cast of media queens on Fortune's Most Powerful Women list is shrinking since Cathie Black left Hearst Magazines--only to struggle mightily and get discharged as New York City Schools chancellor. The other most powerful woman in print, Ann Moore, stepped down as chairman and CEO of Time Inc. (TWX), Fortune's parent, late last year.
And if you consider Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo (YHOO) chief Carol Bartz media executives (I do), then women still do swagger in the media universe.
But the unexpected exits of Norman and McGrath constitute a serious bummer. These two women, who spent much of their careers working together at MTV Networks, were role models not only for each other but for a couple of generations of women on the way up.
Given OWN's dire need for a terrific programmer to shape up the network, the rumor mill has McGrath as a potential successor to Norman. That's not impossible (for Oprah, nothing is), but it's very unlikely. Oprah tried to lure McGrath to OWN early on, before she met Norman, but McGrath is a die-hard New Yorker and didn't want to move her family, including a teenage daughter now in high school, to Los Angeles. Now, with Jersey Shore on MTV, you have wonder if Oprah would hire the woman who gave us the gift of Snooki? For what it's worth (a TV ratings bonanza), Oprah remains a McGrath fan, I'm told. But the notion that McGrath would move from a media behemoth -- including MTV, VH1, Comedy Central and more -- to troubled OWN is unrealistic. "There's not a remote possibility that Judy will do it," says a friend of McGrath.
For the time being -- up to a year -- OWN's 50-50 owners, Oprah Winfrey and Discovery Communications (DISCA), have installed Discovery COO Peter Liguori as interim chief. And the search for a new CEO will begin in earnest this fall, after Oprah wraps up her syndicated talk show, moves to California, and drills into OWN's leadership dilemma. People close to OWN tell me that she and Discovery CEO David Zaslav would not rule out candidates she considered before hiring Norman. Besides McGrath, that cast includes Lifetime/History Channel boss Nancy Dubuc; Susan Lyne, who once co-headed ABC Entertainment and now chairs online retailer Gilt Groupe; and former VH1 boss John Sykes.
Nothing against Sykes and Liguori -- they are guys who get it. But Oprah would be wise to choose a woman. Lisa Ling, whose Our America with Lisa Ling is one of OWN's few hit shows, is featured in Miss Representation and says in the film: "No one is going to stand up for the interests of women except other women."
Even more importantly as female clout in media falters, filmmaker Newsom notes, "You can't be what you can't see." All the more reason for Oprah, as the true queen of media told me last fall, to embrace her "next act" as a businesswoman.
Elizabeth Edwards, former Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) CEO Carly Fiorina and other cancer survivors convened for a discussion called "Stand Up to Cancer" at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in mid-September. Hollywood producer Laura Ziskin was also on the panel. She's a co-founder of Stand Up To Cancer, an entertainment-industry-led initiative that funds cancer research, requires scientists to work together, and is helping to accelerate progress toward curing the disease MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 1, 2009 11:14 AM ET
Leadership, essentially, is about inspiring others to carry on a mission. The leadership opportunity compounds in a connected, viral, global community.
Here's how leadership can spread: In 2006, Fortune and the U.S. State Department launched the Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Every year since then, we've selected two dozen or more of the best and brightest young women leaders in developing countries and invited them to the U.S. to shadow women MOREPatricia Sellers - Aug 10, 2009 12:43 PM ET
I'm on the run in Washington, following meetings at the White House yesterday and a spectacular "Most Powerful Women Evening With..." dinner that Fortune hosted on Monday night in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the State Department. We had eight U.S. Senators with us--including our speakers, Senators Barbara Boxer of California and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas--and scores of women leaders, a touch of royalty (HM Queen Noor, who is MOREJessica Shambora, Writer-Reporter - Apr 29, 2009 3:25 PM ET
On Friday, I left you with a promise: that I'd find something new and proactive to do to answer President Obama's call to "responsibility"--which seems to be the buzzword of his Administration.
I found my "to do" this weekend--but before I tell you what I decided on, let me share briefly what I spent yesterday working on. Carrie Welch, my onetime Fortune colleague and former Most Powerful Women Summit co-chair, and MOREPatricia Sellers - Mar 2, 2009 2:10 PM ET
When chaos and crisis are in the air, it's easy to shelve programs that are about building for the long-term future. That's why I'm particularly proud that Fortune and Goldman Sachs (GS) recently partnered to create the Goldman Sachs-Fortune Global Women Leaders Award.
This annual award is a product of the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership, which brings rising-star women from developing countries to the U.S. every May MOREPatricia Sellers - Nov 10, 2008 12:35 PM ET
I waited 45 minutes to vote this morning. A breeze, I guess, compared to those people standing in line for hours. At 8 a.m., I walked into my Starbucks on Manhattan's Upper West Side for a free tall brewed coffee -- the retailer's Election Day promotion -- and walked straight to the counter. No line. The store filled 20 minutes later. Obviously, Americans are running about one hour late today. MOREPatricia Sellers - Nov 4, 2008 1:55 PM ET
I've shared pictures and videos and stories of Warren Buffett in action at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit--his idea of "heaven," he told the 350 women who gathered in California in early October. But there was much ado beyond Buffett at our 10th Summit, which drew, despite the market mayhem, a lineup of leaders that reflected our theme, "Extraordinary Talent." Here are a few glimpses of the talent on MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 28, 2008 3:05 PM ET
My colleague Carol Loomis interviewed Warren Buffett today here at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in North San Diego. Buffett told us that he came up with a big idea literally while walking to the session this morning. Click here to read "Buffett: My fix for the economy."
Another highlight: Time Inc. CEO Ann Moore did a great on-stage chat with PepsiCo (PEP) CEO Indra Nooyi. Silicon Valley talent maven Juliet Flint MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 2, 2008 5:31 PM ET
Greetings from Southern California! We're here for Fortune's 10th annual Most Powerful Women Summit which, even with all that turmoil across the global markets, is drawing the heaviest hitters in business, starting with Warren Buffett and Lloyd Blankfein.
The world's greatest investor and the Goldman Sachs (GS) CEO will be at our opening dinner tonight. It's a crazy coincidence since we invited these two men (our first time inviting men) months ago. Then, last week, the MOREPatricia Sellers - Oct 1, 2008 1:57 PM ET
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