Can Mark Thompson revive CNN’s faltering fortunes? | CNN



The former head of the BBC and The New York Times has been tasked with revitalizing a news network that appears to have lost its way.

and in late summer, CNN She found herself in a crisis. Under the disastrous tenure of chief executive Chris Licht, the news channel has seen the departure of its top anchors and ratings plummet.

Behind the scenes, CNN staff were grumbling about what appeared to have happened attempt To move the network’s political coverage to a rapidly disappearing center — an effort exemplified by the widely criticized decision host town hall With Donald Trump in May.

was a yacht Leave In June, the chiefs were desperate to find someone who could stabilize the ship.

Enter after two months Mark ThompsonFormer British Director General of the BBC and former CEO of The New York Times.

“I have long admired Mark’s transformational leadership and his ability to inspire organizations to raise their ambitions and sense of what is possible…and make it happen,” David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, which owns CNN, told staff at a news conference. note.

“I’ve spent a lot of time talking to him over the past few weeks and I couldn’t be more excited about all he has in store for us.”

As chairman and CEO of CNN Worldwide, Thompson will be tasked with fixing the struggling news network. its earnings It said It fell to $750 million in 2022, compared to more than $1 billion two years ago Forbes It reported that the amount advertisers spent on CNN in the first four months of this year was down 39% from the previous year.

At least Thompson has experience handling difficult situations. He spent eight years as managing director of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), before leaving to work at The New York Times In 2012where he entered a news organization facing the challenges of making money from the Internet with declining print and advertising sales.

Tasked with increasing the number of paying subscribers to view the Times online, Thompson set out to reshape the Times from an organization focused largely on news into a kind of one-stop-shop for users: a place where people could read about current events in Washington. and severe weather events in Florida, but you can encounter other things, perhaps less severe, too.

Mark Thompson and his team said, “What other areas, that aren’t news, create lifestyle habits that make us necessary?” said Julia Alexander, director of strategy at Parrot Analytics and media analyst at Puck News. break first News of Thompson’s appointment at CNN.

They have games, cooking, and even the athlete. It’s this idea: We’ll give people what they’re looking for throughout the day, and they’ll be grouped into our news product, and that’ll help us support our news product, and better yet, our brand remains relevant among young consumers.

“All of this stuff, if you’re David Zaslav, sounds amazing. It’s all like, ‘This is what we’re struggling with.'”

Times subscribers can now choose an “all-access” subscription, which includes games, cooking and sports coverage of athletics, or customize their subscription to suit their tastes.

In this year’s announcement, Max, the streaming platform owned by Warner Bros Discovery, said it would bring CNN to its platform, with the goal of offering a Thompson-esque show that’s something for everyone.

“Our vision for Max is to be the one to watch for the whole family. “We have the broadest, highest quality entertainment offering, and will now include world-leading news as a meaningful addition to all Max subscribers, at no additional charge,” JB Perrette, CEO and WBD President of Global Broadcasting and Games , He said.

The hope is that live news can give Max an edge over competitors like Netflix and Hulu – which already offer live sports. In this larger thinking, Warner Bros Discovery sees CNN as a “value add” within Max, Alexander said.

Thompson, who is tasked with guiding CNN toward this change, has faced challenges before.

As general manager, Thompson was in charge when the comedian turned comedian Rabbit hole explorer Made by Russell Brand Obscene phone calls by Andrew Sachs on BBC Radio 2 – Brand and his co-host Jonathan Ross have been suspended by the BBC – and came under fire after Nick Griffin, then leader of the far-right British National Party, Back On the “Question Time” news program. Thompson defended the decision, saying the British people had a right to “hear a full range of political views”.

Thompson left the BBC in September 2012, just before the scandal broke over accusations that TV presenter and DJ Jimmy Savile had sexually abused young children for decades, including on BBC premises. It will be later He appears that investigative reporters from Newsnight were preparing a story about the accusations against Savile, only for the report to be dropped by the program’s editor.

“I was not notified or informed of the Newsnight investigation, nor was I involved in any way in the decision not to complete and broadcast the investigation,” Thompson told the New York Times in 2012.

During my tenure as the Director General of the Authority BBCI have never heard any allegations or received any complaints about Jimmy Savile.

Mark Thompson in March this year. Photo: James Manning/ Pennsylvania

Thompson left The New York Times in 2020 after eight years. By the time he left, the Times had ten times more paid subscribers than when he started. However, beating CNN would be another challenge entirely.

“It’s definitely different,” said Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University.

“It’s not like he’s going to come to CNN and do what he did. That was a newspaper transitioning to digital publishing. And that’s a more complex change, because it involves a different shift in viewer behaviour.

One of the problems facing CNN is that the traditional news channel model seems to be dying out. At its height, CNN was making money from two places: from cable providers and through advertisers. This double revenue stream is already declining, as are live news viewing numbers.

“She needs to see how news and 24-hour news fit into the world of streaming,” Rosen said.

“The problem is that while people turn on their TVs and just watch the network, they don’t go to their streaming platforms and just turn them on and say, ‘Whatever they have, I’ll just watch whatever’s out there.'”

“This is not how people use broadcasting, is it? They go with the intention of more than that. So the problem is how to reconfigure the broadcasting network for a different consumer choice environment.

And that’s something CNN previously failed to do with CNN+, the $100 million streaming service canceled In April last year, just a month after its launch. Viewers had to pay extra to watch CNN+, which attracted journalists including former Fox anchor Chris Wallace, but when Warner Bros Discovery bought CNN from AT&T, it shut down the service, with Licht suggestion Viewers did not want “independent shows”.

“We face pressures from every direction – structural, political, cultural, you name it,” Thompson He said In a note to staff this week. “Like many other media organizations, CNN has recently felt some of the uncertainty and pain that comes with it all.”

He added, “There is no magic wand that I or anyone else can use to remove this disorder. But what I can say is that when others see a threat, I see an opportunity – especially given CNN’s great brand and the power of its journalism.”

In an age when right-wing politicians have no qualms about spreading lies about issues including stolen elections, vaccines, transgender people and more, one issue for CNN will be how it covers politics without promoting what Rosen calls “strategic lying”.

“To be for democracy, to be for the truth…[were]always basic assumptions that anyone in journalism could make. “They weren’t in the lead because no one objected to them,” Rosen said.

But now you have in the United States a political party that is clearly anti-democratic in many respects. You have a movement, the MAGA movement, which is a bit like traditional American democracy.

He added, “I would say that the most important problem Thompson faces, from my point of view, as an observer, is how to turn CNN into a pro-democracy and pro-truth network. For me, this is the biggest problem. It is where creativity and leadership are most needed.

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