CNN’s newly appointed chairman Mark Thompson warned staffers at the ratings-challenged cable news outlet that the broadcast news industry was “approaching peak disruption” — as the rank and file moaned that “morale is in the sh-tter’ due to the turnover at the top.
Thompson, the former New York Times and BBC boss who will take over CNN on Oct. 9, fired off a memo to the network’s 4,000-strong workforce on Wednesday in which he described the challenges facing the network.
“We face pressure from every direction — structural, political, cultural, you name it,” he wrote in the memo, the contents of which were reported by the Financial Times.
“Where others see threat, I see opportunity.”
Thompson’s main challenge will be to boost the network’s sagging ratings, which are dwarfed by those of rivals Fox News and MSNBC.
He will also be tasked with solidifying an unstable operation that has seen considerable turnover since it was acquired by Warner Bros. Discovery last year and its CEO David Zaslav pushed to pivot CNN away from its left-leaning coverage.
“Morale is in the sh—er. People are tired of this. It’s bad.”
“But if the business is indeed changing to this brave new world of streaming, digital, [Thompson] does have experience in that area,” the unnamed CNN star told Mediaite.
The staffer wondered whether Zaslav will continue to insist that CNN move toward the political center as opposed to the adversarial, left-leaning stance it adopted during the Donald Trump presidency.
“There are a lot of unknowns,” the unnamed CNN personality said.
“What is David Zaslav up to? We don’t know the answer to that. There’s like five people on this Earth who know the answer to that. The proof will be in the pudding.”
CNN staffers are said to be largely in favor of Zaslav’s decision to name Thompson as the successor to Licht, who was let go in June after 14 months on the job.
“Everyone I have spoken to so far is thrilled,” a CNN journalist told FT.
“CNN needs a bold strategy [and] he did that at the New York Times. He knows how to navigate sprawling organizations.”
Another CNN personality thinks Thompson will be an upgrade from his predecessor.
“Everyone is just hoping for some stability,” the CNN staffer told Mediaite.
“Licht was wildly unprepared. Thompson seems to have great credentials.”
Another CNN worker also endorsed the hire, telling Mediaite: “Good to have a journalist at the helm, and one with some success at turning an outlet around. Things can only get better, one hopes.”
“I’d imagine and hope that the changes are less ideological and more programming-related,” the staffer added.
During his eight-year stint as CEO of the New York Times Company, Thompson earned praise for growing the Gray Lady’s digital subscriber base by introducing the recipe-filled service NYT Cooking as well as overseeing the acquisition of the tech gadget review site Wirecutter.
After leaving the Times in 2020, Thompson, who was director-general of the British Broadcasting Corporation before relocating stateside, was named to the board of directors of German media conglomerate Axel Springer as well as the Royal Shakespeare Company.
In June, Thompson, who began his journalism career as a production trainee for the BBC, was knighted by King Charles for services to media, earning him the honorific “Sir.”
Licht, who was hired by Zaslav last year after spending years as executive producer of Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show” on CBS, was dumped after failing to deliver ratings while alienating staffers and top stars at the network.
Zucker resigned as head of CNN before Zaslav took over — after it was learned that he had been carrying on a years-long relationship with Allison Gollust, a subordinate who served as the network’s top marketing officer.