CNN Boss Mark Thompson to Staff: Network Is “Nowhere Near Ready for the Future”

From a Wall Street Journal story by Isabella Simonetti headlined “CNN Boss Mark Thompson to Staff: Network Is ‘Nowhere Near Ready for the Future'”:

CNN Chief Executive Mark Thompson told staff that the network needs to step up its digital game, saying conventional TV “can no longer define us,” and said its journalists shouldn’t be distracted by debates about balance or false equivalency.

Speaking to employees in a video message, his first official day at CNN, Thompson said he would draw on his earlier experience as CEO of the New York Times to modernize the network.

“For most people under retirement age, the first place they turn for news is their phones, not their TVs. And news players who can’t or won’t respond to that revolution risk losing their audience and their business,” Thompson said.

He said CNN needs to act swiftly, and that despite some progress, such as the recent launch of CNN Max—a collection of programming from the network on the Max streaming service—“this company is still nowhere near ready for the future.”

“TV is vital and there’s urgent work to do there, especially as we rebuild prime time. But TV is also too dominant at CNN and digital too marginal,” Thompson said.

Addressing the network’s mission and purpose, Thompson urged CNN to define the news, not just react to it. “And let’s not second guess ourselves or get distracted by complicated arguments about balance or whataboutism or false equivalency. Let’s cover political news proportionately and fairly, but not be frightened of our own shadows.”

Thompson spent eight years as CEO of the New York Times, stepping down in 2020 after supersizing its digital-subscription business and expanding into areas such as cooking and games.

Even before his first official day, Thompson had been meeting with some CNN employees. He arrives after the tumultuous tenure of former CNN boss Chris Licht, who sought to push the network’s coverage to the political center.

That strategy ran into problems—notably, when CNN held a town hall with former President Donald Trump that prompted criticism from staffers and a variety of political pundits. Critics said CNN could have aired a pretaped, edited interview with Trump instead. Licht left the network abruptly in June after an unflattering profile in the Atlantic.

Licht’s critics said he focused too much on the TV operation—its editorial philosophy and lineup of talent—and not enough on digital operations. The TV business is where the bulk of the profits are, given longstanding and lucrative arrangements with cable providers. But that business is shrinking and the ad business has been choppy.

CNN has some formidable digital assets, including one of the most-trafficked news sites on the web. In October 2022, the network hired Athan Stephanopoulos, the former president of NowThis, a news outlet focused on young audiences, to serve as its chief digital officer and help expand CNN’s digital products.

Speak Your Mind