The sudden ouster of CNN CEO Jeff Zucker over workplace ties has left some prominent employees feeling angry and uncertain about the direction of their network at a critical time. .
The company is about to undergo a corporate change of ownership, launching a paid streaming service and replacing the most popular online host at a time of falling ratings.
On Thursday, it became clear that Zucker’s departure after nine years as head of CNN was anything but voluntary.
Zucker said he was leaving because he violated company policy by not disclosing the nature of his relationship with his second-in-command, Allison Gollust. But he was given no other choice by WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, who described the change as his decision at an emotional meeting with CNN Washington staffers on Wednesday night. . The AP obtained a recording of that meeting.
The nature of that meeting, coupled with the fact that Zucker’s exit has become a cooler affair – former President Donald Trump has made two statements about it – speaks to his unusual influence on the political side. How to be a media executive.
“He was a bigger than life figure in the political ecosystem, the media ecosystem and CNN,” said Mark Lukasiewicz, head of the Department of Communication at Hofstra University and a former colleague of Zucker at NBC News. .
Kilar responded to questions by CNN employees in Washington. They wondered if he had sought advice from other executives, why Zucker wasn’t given a transition period, and if the rumored grudge between the two men played any role in that. decide whether or not, according to the recording.
“Given that these are two adults agreeing… why is that a fireable offense?” asked White House reporter Kaitlyn Collins.
TV host Jake Tapper says there’s been speculation that Chris Cuomo – fired in December as CNN host for private advice to his brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo – essentially succeeded in threatening to embarrass the company by disclosing the relationship if it didn’t pay a settlement fee.
“How do we overcome the perception that this is the bad guy winning?” Tapper asked at the meeting.
Even some of Zucker’s temporary replacements – veteran CNN executives like Michael Bass, Amy Entelis and Ken Jautz – spoke about his impact on the organization and said they would go in the direction he sets out.
Jautz said during the staff meeting that after CNN founder Ted Turner, “Jeff has had more impact on this place than anyone, certainly more than any CEO.”
CNN’s John King described Zucker’s direct influence on what was broadcast and his fear of the unknown without him.
“You may not agree with every decision,” King said at the meeting. “But you know someone who is going to make a decision, you know which way to go. And this company has had a long period of non-existence and those are frustrating times. “
The selection of a new leader will ultimately fall to David Zaslav, the head of the new company formed by the pending merger of Discovery, Inc. and WarnerMedia.
But that means CNN is suddenly without a helm as it prepares to launch its CNN+ streaming service this spring. Zucker has been active in recruiting talent like former Fox News host Chris Wallace, building its features and set to become a cheerleader for it.
Kilar, during the meeting in Washington, described the launch of CNN+ as important as the beginning of CNN itself. Adding to the challenge is that it will be a paid service at a time when many other companies in the industry, with the exception of Fox Nation, are offering free access.
CNN also needs to replace Cuomo in its main roster, and there will be a host of replacements. Zucker recently approached Gayle King for a job before she decided to re-sign with CBS News.
The network’s viewership has dropped dramatically over the past year. News ratings are always cyclical, and the 2020 election has delivered record numbers of participants, but there’s always the question of when, or if, they’ll come back.
CNN is also going through a controversial period when Trump often calls the network “fake news”. During a meeting with Kilar, CNN’s Jim Acosta said that Zucker was resilient against the attacks and worried if anyone else would do the same.
CNN’s online agents under Zucker, like Acosta, have become much tougher, and that’s not always the case.
“It will be interesting to see if that culture changes with the new leadership,” said Jennifer Thomas, a Howard University journalism professor who worked at CNN as a producer in the 2000s. Are not.
Some, like Thomas, have called for a reset. One is influential cable executive John Malone, a top Discovery shareholder, who said on CNBC in November that “I’d like to see CNN grow back into the kind of journalism it started.”
Lukasiewicz said he sees no reason to think that change will happen. What’s most exciting is what the emergence of streaming as a news platform with a wide variety of audiences will mean for the industry, he said.
Lukasiewicz said it is a difficult time for CNN to enter a period of interim leadership. But not all such tumultuous times end negatively.
“Sometimes this unwelcome leadership change can lead to good things,” he said.
https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/national-international/cnn-execs-ouster-rattles-prominent-staff-at-pivotal-time/3133591/ CNN Exec’s Ouster Rattles Distinguished Staff at Pivotal Time – NBC10 Philadelphia