Monday, 2 October 2023

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New CNN CEO Mark Thompson will concentrate on CNN’s 5-year viability

New CNN CEO Mark Thompson will concentrate on CNN's 5-year viability

A person walks past the headquarters of the Cable News Network (CNN) on November 17, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Brandon Bell | Getty Images

When former CNN Chief Executive Officer Chris Licht started running the news organization last year, he had a mission from his boss, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav: change the network’s programming and tone to emphasize news rather than “advocacy” journalism.

With Licht now fired, CNN’s incoming CEO Mark Thompson has a new job: everything else.

Thompson, who starts at CNN on Oct. 9, has had preliminary discussions with Zaslav and other members of CNN’s leadership about strategic ideas and priorities, according to people familiar with the matter, who declined to speak on the record because the discussions were private. He has made no decisions about CNN’s operations and won’t until he has had a chance to meet with staffers and learn the business, said the people.

Still, some areas of emphasis are clear. Thompson will focus on building digital subscription businesses around and creating programming for a younger audience on CNN Max, the network’s live news service on Warner Bros. Discovery’s “Max” streaming service, said two of the people.

Licht’s background was programming, as he launched “Morning Joe” on MSNBC and “CBS This Morning” with Charlie Rose, Norah O’Donnell, and Gayle King. Zaslav hired him as a TV programmer — and ultimately fired him after Licht lost the confidence of his employees and failed to deliver ratings winners.

Much of Licht’s short reign, which lasted a little over a year, centered around depoliticizing CNN. Zaslav and Licht agreed that CNN had gotten a reputation as left-leaning, and tried to refocus the network as a down-the-middle outlet that could appeal to both Democrats and Republicans. Licht and CNN’s leadership since his firing — a four-person team of Amy Entelis, Virginia Moseley, Eric Sherling and David Leavy — overhauled CNN’s linear shows, including a new morning show and a revamped primetime lineup.

Licht struggled to win over CNN employees by purposely taking a hands-off approach to differentiate his style from former CNN chief Jeff Zucker, who resigned in February 2022 after failing to disclose a consensual relationship with a coworker. Zaslav felt Licht moved too slowly to make decisions and didn’t appropriately relate to CNN’s talent, according to people familiar with the matter. Licht believed he couldn’t be his authentic self given Zaslav’s mandate to be…

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