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CNN’s new chief says the network needs to recapture the “swagger and innovation” of its youth

Jan 17, 2024, 12:30 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — CNN’s new chief executive says the company needs to recapture the “swagger and innovation” of its early days — and that, he says, increasingly means embracing a future outside of television.

Mark Thompson, appointed CNN’s chief executive last fall after stints at The New York Times and BBC, outlined a strategy to his staff Wednesday that included a corporate restructuring but few external specifics on how that transformation will take place.

Once a “scrappy outsider,” CNN has been slow to respond to the reality of its primary television business shrinking, Thompson said in his memo. He was not made available for an on-the-record interview with The Associated Press.

“There’s currently too little innovation and risk-taking,” Thompson said in the memo. “Like so many other news players with a broadcast heritage, CNN’s linear services and even its website can sometimes have an old-fashioned and unadventurous feel as if the world has changed and they haven’t.”

CNN needs to follow the audience, and smartphones are where most people under 40 first turn for news, he said.

To change the thinking, Thompson said the current national, international and digital teams need to be combined into one unit, under the leadership of Virginia Moseley as executive editor. Mike McCarthy will become CNN’s managing editor.

Atlanta-based CNN is also hiring Alex MacCallum, currently chief revenue officer at The Washington Post, as an executive in charge of digital projects and services.

That’s where Thompson, known for establishing the digital subscription service that transformed the Times as a business the past decade, will look for sustained revenue at CNN. It’s not clear whether this will mean a paid subscription service or other products.

In the past, CNN hasn’t always “gone the extra mile to squeeze every bit of value from the outstanding news and other intellectual property we create,” he wrote. “No longer.”

He said the CNN.com website needs “drastic modernization.” The network also needs multiple digital projects to complement the CNN Max streaming service, he said.

With cord-cutting, the audience for cable television in the U.S. has fallen by one-fifth in the past two years, he said. CNN’s full-day ratings averaged 479,000 in 2023, down 15% from a year earlier. Fox News Channel’s 1.22 million was down 18% and MSNBC’s 780,000 was up 6%, according to the Nielsen company.

Thompson said CNN’s television personalities must find multiplatform audiences, and praised Anderson Cooper’s “All There Is” podcast about grief.

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David Bauder covers media for The Associated Press. Follow him at http://twitter.com/dbauder

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