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Vivian Schiller Is a Lock as Twitter’s Head of News

Vivian_schiller_D8

Vivian Schiller, NBC News’ SVP and chief digital officer, is being tapped for Twitter’s head of news position, according to sources familiar with the matter. AllThingsD reported last week that she was the leading pick for the high-profile job.

The deal is now “all but done,” according to sources, although Schiller will apparently take a significant period of time off between the end of her current position at NBC and the start of the new job at Twitter.

As AllThingsD also reported last week, Twitter has been on the hunt for an experienced newsperson to fill the position for many months, searching for someone familiar with the media landscape who would act as a liaison between news agencies and the San Francisco microblogging service.

Schiller, a veteran of the industry, certainly fits the profile. Previous to her time at NBCUniversal, which began in mid-2011, Schiller held senior roles at CNN, Discovery, NPR and the New York Times.

Schiller’s NPR stint ended in controversy; she resigned from NPR in March following some very dicey snafus. Among them was the release of a video that showed one of her lieutenants criticizing Republicans and the Tea Party.

At NBC, she was hired by former NBC News head Steve Capus (the new head is Deborah Turness, the well-regarded British TV news exec, appointed in May). Several sources said Schiller had a solid reputation there, although there was some internal criticism for the rocky digital transition of the end of the media giant’s relationship with Microsoft, which sold its 50 percent stake in the MSNBC joint venture in 2012.

According to sources, VP of media Chloe Sladden and Twitter’s head of television Fred Graver were champions of Schiller throughout the long, drawn-out hiring process and were instrumental in picking her. Other potential candidates tapped included media personalities such as Jim Roberts of Reuters and Emily Bell, the director of Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School.

Schiller’s hiring rounds out the suite of Twitter’s media partnerships team, which the company has staffed up over the past year. In September, the company tapped Bob Moczydlowsky as Twitter’s new head of music, a former executive at Topspin Media who is often described as a “product guy.” And earlier in the month, Twitter hired former ESPN and PBA exec Geoff Reiss to lead the company’s sports vertical.

The hiring, however, comes at a contentious time for Twitter, which has recently come under fire for its lack of gender diversity among its top executives and on its board. The company’s board, in particular, is composed entirely of white males — a fact made even more apparent in the wake of a tone deaf quip from CEO Dick Costolo against one of Twitter’s most vocal recent detractors in the public discussion on its lack of a female director.

According to multiple sources, however, the timing of Schiller’s appointment with recent discussions on gender is a coincidence, one not made to deflect from the heat Twitter is taking. In fact, sources said Schiller was also interviewed more than a year ago for a possible board seat at the company. Instead, she will occupy the head of news position, while executives continue the search for a female board member.

More on that, very soon.

Twitter declined comment. An NBC spokesperson also declined to comment.

Until the official news, here’s a little taste of Schiller, when she was still CEO of NPR, in a video interview at the eighth D: All Things Digital conference in 2010:


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik