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In a surprising move, AOL (NYSE: AOL) vet Joe Ruffolo has been picked by Ben Sherwood as the new SVP of ABC (NYSE: DIS) News Digital, paidContent has learned from multiple sources. ABC News would not confirm but my understanding is the internal announcement is due later this morning — along with the rest of Sherwood’s senior management team. [11:45 am: The announcement came a few minutes ago; details below.]
Ruffolo comes out of left field — or more precisely, the home page team at AOL, where he was VP, AOL.com and Head of Current Programming until leaving for ABC News. (He was not included in the most recent round of layoffs.) His hiring is a sign that Sherwood, who recently returned to ABC News as president, is not trying for business as usual, something I would expect to be reflected in the other senior exec moves. I’m told Sherwood likes Ruffolo’s blend of content and business development experiences, plus the mix of his background at AOL, where he has been since 2000, and before that MTV Networks (NYSE: VIA). What he doesn’t have: much experience in news — online or network. I say much, not none, because he did a stint at CNN in the ’90s, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Ruffolo starts work Wednesday, less than a week after Sherwood sent out a late Friday afternoon email announcing that Paul Slavin, digital head since 2007, was leaving. Unlike Slavin, who worked his way up through network news over the course of 33 years at ABC News, Ruffolo has never been in the field, never covered a breaking story or produced a newscast. But ABC News should have moved far past the time when it needed a digital exec with news chops for that area to be taken seriously. In Ruffolo, Sherwood gets an almost digital native when it comes to business strategy and development, someone who has spent more than a decade working for one of the largest content portals. He hasn’t lived through the chaos of a newsroom but he did survive multiple regime changes at AOL.
His most recent role at AOL included managing video production for AOL.com and original video production across AOL. His personal credits include the web series You’ve Got…, a quick-hit open mike video series that has featured President Barack Obama, with a get-out-the-vote message, and a range of guests from Heloise to Dan Savage.
Update: In addition to Ruffolo, two ABC News alums are coming back to fill out Sherwood’s senior management team. Barbara Fedida is returning to ABC News as SVP for Talent and Business, while Susan Mercandetti rejoins as VP for Business Development and Partnerships.
More about Ruffolo:
Specifically, Joe will be charged with building on the success of ABC News Digital and charting a bold course to greater impact, reach and revenue. Joe is a proven leader, strategist and team player with valuable experience in key roles across the media landscape.
From 1996 to 1998, Joe worked on the team that helped build CNN Interactive in Atlanta. He earned an MBA from Emory, worked at MTV Networks and AOL, negotiating and planning online content distribution and licensing partnerships around the globe. He also played a leading role developing new programming and launching sites. Most recently, Joe served as vice president of AOL.com, one of top providers of news and information, and headed current programming. In that role, he managed homepage operations serving 15 million users per day and supervised daily video series.
And for good measure, carrying through with the alum theme, the announcement notes that Ruffolo ABC-6 in Providence, Rhode Island during college and The Walt Disney Company in grad school.
The three new execs have one thing in common: substantial experience outside ABC News. Fedida most recently was the top talent exec at CBS; (NYSE: CBS) Mercandett has been in publishing at Miramax and Random House. She has a CBS tie, too — she worked with Katie Couric on her just-released book.