CNN wants a brand new chief after Chris Licht. Will anybody need the job?

For the second time in simply over 15 months, David Zaslav is on the hunt for somebody to tackle one of many greatest jobs in media: the top of CNN. This search is likely to be tougher than the primary.

The primary time round, the Warner Bros. Discovery chief govt gravitated rapidly to a veteran TV programmer with a diverse and intriguing résumé. Chris Licht had resuscitated CBS’s lagging morning present, caught lightning in a bottle with MSNBC’s political chat present “Morning Joe” and even excelled at producing Stephen Colbert’s late-night comedy present. Zaslav employed him in April 2022 with out interviewing anybody else.

However after Licht’s abrupt dismissal final week, it’s understood that Zaslav will in all probability do much more interviewing. Not solely to seek out somebody with the managerial magic to run a some 4,000-person world information operation — but additionally to steer one of many few certified individuals to need the job.

“The job of working a 24-hour information group, at the most effective of occasions, is like strolling right into a Class 3 hurricane,” mentioned Jon Klein, who ran CNN in america from 2004 to 2010.

And this isn’t the most effective of occasions for CNN.

The community’s subsequent chief must captain a crew of cautious and pissed off staff at a time of extreme monetary strain for the corporate and the broader tv {industry}. Warner Bros. Discovery was saddled with debt as a part of the merger that shaped it final 12 months, a determine that sits at $49.5 billion. The corporate is feeling the brunt of industry-wide declines in promoting and income from cable TV subscriptions, which has weighed down CNN’s backside line, although the community remains to be closely worthwhile.

Contemplating all of the structural and managerial challenges at play, the checklist of potential candidates who verify all of the containers “may be very, very small,” mentioned an {industry} govt who spoke on the situation of anonymity to talk candidly.

“It’s not a fairly administration image,” mentioned Frank Sesno, a former CNN Washington bureau chief.

In the meantime, the circumstances of Licht’s departure — after a rankings decline and programming blunders that left workers demoralized — might scare off some contenders. Whereas Licht maintained all through his tenure that he made his personal selections and was not merely doing Zaslav’s bidding, his firing made clear that he served on the pleasure of the person who picked him.

“Whoever is picked, the key query shall be: How a lot energy will they need to push again on Zaslav?” requested a CNN veteran who spoke on the situation of anonymity to talk candidly. The {industry} govt, who has shut data of CNN, mentioned that “anyone who is nice goes to demand that they’ve the authority to run the enterprise.”

Within the interim, CNN shall be run by three longtime programming executives — Amy Entelis, Virginia Moseley and Eric Sherling — and a business-side exec, David C. Leavy, a Discovery veteran who was named chief working officer of CNN lower than two weeks in the past and was instantly tasked to function a sounding board for the community’s pissed off journalists.

Regardless of how certified the candidate, the following chief of CNN will battle in opposition to the bigger pressures constructing in opposition to your complete cable-television {industry}. CNN’s total rankings have slumped badly, shedding simply over one-third of its viewers on common throughout 2022, a phenomenon that some observers say displays customers’ declining urge for food for information after the growth years of the frenetic Trump period.

And but a lot of Warner Bros. Discovery’s different cable networks — together with HGTV and Animal Planet — have additionally skilled slumping rankings. Viewers have been canceling their cable and satellite tv for pc subscriptions for years, and the development is accelerating. Whereas community executives are scrambling to compensate for his or her declining tv enterprise by increase their streaming choices, Warner Bros. Discovery shuttered CNN’s $100 million streaming service after barely a month final 12 months.

From 2021: The brand new CNN is extra opinionated and emotional. Can it nonetheless be ‘essentially the most trusted identify in information’?

Analysts notice, although, that Warner Bros. Discovery’s media properties — together with CNN — nonetheless generate loads of money that may pay down the mum or dad firm’s money owed. In the meantime, the corporate’s massive guess on streaming, Max, is displaying declining losses from its predecessors, Discovery Plus and HBO Max, which supplies Zaslav some monetary flexibility.

“CNN goes to need to get as a lot profitability out of their present cable- and digital-focused enterprise as they will whereas concurrently creating an environment friendly streaming technique,” mentioned Klein, who runs the streaming sports activities platform HANG. “The subsequent chief of CNN must have a foot in each worlds, journalism and expertise.”

And former CBS Information president Andrew Heyward warned in opposition to the concept CNN is a broken property in dire want of an overhaul. A senior adviser on the Cronkite Faculty of Journalism at Arizona State College, he has argued that TV information networks ought to divvy up oversight amongst a number of bosses.

“The concept we’d like a charismatic determine, a colossus striding throughout the panorama, I’m undecided that’s notably useful to the information group versus truly addressing these challenges,” he mentioned.

Of the interim leaders, Entelis, 72, has the longest monitor file, shut relationships with the community’s most outstanding journalists and a fame as a taste-making savant. Underneath her management as govt vice chairman for expertise and content material improvement, CNN turned often called not only a cable information community but additionally as a purveyor of high-quality nonfiction programming. In March, her unit gained CNN its first Academy Award for the 2022 documentary “Navalny.”

However in October, Entelis’s affect was curbed when Licht introduced that CNN would cease buying movies equivalent to “Navalny” and in the reduction of on high-priced however in style exhibits, such because the journey program “Stanley Tucci: Trying to find Italy,” which was canceled. And CNN insiders additionally say she lacks a few of the day by day journalism and information programming chops that is likely to be essential to run the community on a everlasting foundation — if, in actual fact, she would even need the job. “She’s a tv particular person. She’s not a information particular person,” the CNN veteran mentioned.

Nonetheless, the community is in want of stability, and that may come from a well-recognized face, whether or not Entelis, Moseley or Sherling. A veteran of ABC Information, Moseley is CNN’s govt vice chairman of editorial, overseeing all home newsgathering — “an incredible editorial particular person, an incredible present particular person,” within the phrases of a pal who spoke on the situation of anonymity to debate prime executives. Sherling, in the meantime, oversees all reside programming, particular initiatives and reside occasions programming.

In a memo to staff on Thursday, the interim leaders laid out their mission: “to take away the limitations and distractions which have made your jobs tougher, refocus on the unparalleled work you’re producing each day, and provide open and common traces of communication to make sure that you are feeling invested and engaged in our path ahead.”

Greater than something, the executives shall be charged with calming the troops and getting the buy-in of the community’s most outstanding anchors, who had privately voiced their frustrations with Licht’s management within the days earlier than his ouster. A type of anchors, Jake Tapper, advised The Washington Publish that he desires to return focus to the community’s journalistic mission.

Jay Sures, the vice chairman of the United Expertise Company, represents a lot of CNN’s prime anchors, together with Tapper — those that the following chief of the community might want to maintain completely satisfied.

“What CNN wants now’s a relaxing presence, a statesperson, any person that the expertise trusts who will put journalism first, forward of all the things,” Sures mentioned.

Paul Farhi contributed to this report.


A earlier model of this text listed the inaccurate age of Amy Entelis. This model has been corrected.

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