A Tough Year at CNN Is Ending in a Tough Way

From CNN’s Reliable Sources with Oliver Darcy:

CNN Network boss Chris Licht announced that the much-anticipated layoffs at the company had commenced on Wednesday, describing the process as one that would be a “gut punch” to the organization. The layoffs are expected to ultimately result in some on-air contributors and hundreds of staffers losing their jobs, marking the deepest cuts to the network in nearly a decade.

“Our people are the heart and soul of this organization,” Licht wrote in an all-staff memo. “It is incredibly hard to say goodbye to any one member of the CNN team, much less many.”

Licht went on to describe the coming days as a “difficult time” for CNN. He acknowledged that the layoffs, which come at a time of significant cost cutting pressure, will “affect both our departing colleagues and those who remain.” And he concluded urging staffers to “take care of each other this week.”

The layoffs will cap what can only be described as a difficult and turbulent year for the news network. In the last 12 months, CNN has seen its star 9pm anchor fired, its revered president ousted, a number of senior executives exit, and its hyped streaming service killed in its infancy. The news has continued on-air and online, but behind the scenes, the organization has been shaken to its core.

Now staffers are worrying about whether or not they’ll have a job this holiday season. Most of the cuts impacting staffers will take place Thursday, either in person or over Zoom, Licht said in his Wednesday memo, meaning anxiety will be running high for at least another night.

But some of the cuts, largely comprised of paid contributors, did get underway Wednesday. Two television agents from two different talent agencies I spoke with said that CNN was paying out their clients’ contributor contracts, but prohibiting them from appearing on other all-news networks for the remainder of their deals. In other words, don’t expect to see axed personalities pop up tomorrow on MSNBC, unless they want to give up their salaries.

The layoffs at CNN — which I should note still posts annual profits in the hundreds of millions of dollars — come amid significant cost cutting pressure from parent company Warner Bros. Discovery. The media juggernaut, which was formed earlier this year after WarnerMedia (CNN’s former parent) and Discovery merged, is saddled with debt and boss David Zaslav has vowed to investors that he will find more than $3 billion in savings.

Licht has, however, said the cuts are his own. “These are my cuts,” he told Kara Swisher in an interview earlier this month. Licht went on to say, “This is my strategy and if I thought that there was a cut that somehow I was getting pushed to do, something that I thought would be, in the, not in the interest of this company, I would push back hard, and I’ve not had to do that.

The cuts also come as media companies across the industry face significant pressure to decrease costs amid a deteriorating economy that has wreaked absolute havoc upon the advertising sector, which newsrooms rely on for considerable amounts of their revenue.

CNN on Wednesday declined to say what percentage of the workforce will be reduced. Licht, however, said in his memo that after the layoffs conclude Thursday, he will “follow up with more details.”

In the absence of those details, a lot is up in the air. The big question: What will CNN look like heading into 2023? We’ll know more in about 24 hours.

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