Monday, July 15, 2024

CNN cuts jobs as part of digital overhaul

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CNN will cut about 100 jobs, or roughly 3 per cent of its staff, as the television broadcaster consolidates its newsrooms and charts ambitious plans to create a billion-dollar digital business.

In a memo to staff on Wednesday, chief executive Sir Mark Thompson said CNN would launch a digital subscription service before the end of 2024, as he invoked the “pioneering spirit” of CNN founder Ted Turner who paved the way for America’s cable news industry in the 1980s.

Thompson, the former BBC director-general who was last year appointed chief executive to turn around the struggling cable network, said he wanted to create “an integrated and significantly streamlined multimedia news operation [and] a bold new digital strategy”.

He is merging CNN’s US, international and digital newsrooms, with other plans including showing more CNN content on Max, the streaming service owned by parent company Warner Brothers Discovery, and a “strategic push” into using artificial intelligence.

Thompson, who successfully oversaw a digital overhaul in his previous job at The New York Times, was brought to CNN to safeguard the future of the legacy media group. The broadcaster has fallen behind its competitors in recent years while also struggling with shrinking audiences as Americans ditch their traditional television subscriptions.

Thompson’s mandate is to create a digital platform to reach audiences that consume news online, as well as halt the decline of CNN’s traditional cable news business.

CNN had signed its first “multimillion-dollar licensing deal” to drive value from its 44-year video archive, he added.

However, Thompson also told staff that “around a hundred out of a workforce of more than 3,500” would lose their jobs, alongside other roles being created under the new structure.

Thompson is one of a number of media bosses in the US overseeing a strategic overhaul of their newsrooms, with fellow British executives Sir Will Lewis and Emma Tucker both pushing through changes at the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal respectively.

Traditional media groups are facing the need to reach new audiences through digital channels, such as TikTok and YouTube, while also protecting their legacy businesses and existing customers.

In 2022, CNN launched a digital subscription service called CNN+, but this was closed after just a month as new owners Warner Brothers Discovery focused on its Max streaming service. Thompson told the Financial Times in April that this had been “a big bold experiment, which was abandoned rather briskly”.

In the memo to staff, Thompson said the new subscription service would “aim to help our audience and customers live a better life by creating a growing stable of ‘want-to-use’ paid offerings anchored by lifestyle journalism where CNN is uniquely positioned to win”.

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