CNN looks to rein­vent it­self

The cable news chan­nel is seek­ing to re­verse its con­tin­u­ing prime-time woes.

Los Angeles Times - - Front Page - Joe Flint

“We have to be more ex­cit­ing,” the news chan­nel’s new U.S. head says.

Jon Klein, pres­i­dent of CNN’s U.S. op­er­a­tions, was fired Fri­day just weeks af­ter putting the fin­ish­ing touches on a new night­time lineup for the cable news chan­nel that was aimed at re­vers­ing years of de­clin­ing rat­ings and bol­ster­ing its po­si­tion against up­start MSNBC and in­dus­try leader Fox News.

Klein’s de­par­ture comes shortly af­ter ABC News Pres­i­dent David Westin an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion and is the lat­est shake-up in a tele­vi­sion news busi­ness strug­gling to adapt to a rapidly chang­ing me­dia land­scape that in­creas­ingly val­ues ad­vo­cacy and par­ti­san­ship over news and anal­y­sis. Al­though CNN’s rat­ings rose dur­ing times of cri­sis, it was chal­lenged to com­pete on a day-to-day ba­sis with other cable chan­nels that re­lied pri­mar­ily on lively opin­ion-driven talk shows.

Tapped to once again try to rein­vent CNN is Ken Jautz, who most re­cently over­saw the re­vamp­ing of HLN, CNN’s sis­ter chan­nel for­merly known as Head­line News. Un­der Jautz’s watch, HLN has seen its rat­ings grow, but its rep­u­ta­tion as a tra­di­tional news chan­nel suf­fered be­cause of some of its tabloid-style shows such as “Nancy Grace.” It was Jautz who first put Glenn Beck on tele­vi­sion on HLN, be­fore the con­tro­ver­sial per-


son­al­ity left for Fox News.

Al­though Jautz has be­come known as the man who made HLN into the New York Post of cable news, he is a vet­eran jour­nal­ist and for­mer for­eign cor­re­spon­dent for the As­so­ci­ated Press. In an in­ter­view, Jautz said CNN would “stick to its non­par­ti­san pro­gram­ming phi­los­o­phy,” but was quick to add that the net­work needed a shot of adren­a­line.

“We have to be more ex­cit­ing…. In or­der to en­gage the prime-time au­di­ence, you need to pro­vide them some­thing more,” Jautz said. That means, he ex­plained, CNN will start to have more opin­ion seep­ing into its con­tent but will do it in an “in­clu­sive man­ner.”

Jautz will in­herit a slate of night­time pro­gram­ming largely en­gi­neered by his pre­de­ces­sor. Piers Mor­gan, a Bri­tish TV per­son­al­ity best known as host of NBC’s “Amer­ica’s Got Tal­ent,” will re­place Larry King and take over CNN’s 9 p.m. slot in Jan­uary. And for­mer New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who re­signed amid a sex scan­dal, will co-host a po­lit­i­cal chat show with con­ser­va­tive colum­nist Kath­leen Parker.

For­mer CNN an­chor Aaron Brown said he didn’t be­lieve that putting Jautz in the top role at CNN would nec­es­sar­ily mean the net­work would lean to­ward tabloid-style cov­er­age.

“Ken’s a solid guy; he was given a charge when he took over Head­line News and he ex­e­cuted it,” Brown said.

Al­though his fu­ture at CNN had been the sub­ject of spec­u­la­tion in­side me­dia cir­cles for years, Klein had re­cently been given a vote of con­fi­dence by CNN World­wide Pres­i­dent Jim Wal­ton, who ex­tended Klein’s con­tract by sev­eral years.

In a con­fer­ence call Fri­day morn­ing, Wal­ton said, “We’re not sat­is­fied with the low rat­ings.” That com­ment con­trasted sharply with his re­marks about de­clin­ing rat­ings and Klein’s fu­ture in April. “It’s not as dire as some peo­ple say,” Wal­ton said in an in­ter­view then.

There seemed to be lit­tle gloat­ing at Fox News over Klein’s ouster.

“Jon is a re­spected jour­nal­ist…. We’ve en­joyed com­pet­ing with CNN dur­ing his ten­ure,” Fox News Chair­man Roger Ailes said.

Klein’s exit led to spec­u­la­tion that Phil Kent, pres­i­dent of CNN par­ent Turner Broad­cast­ing — a unit of Time Warner Inc. — supplied the push that fi­nally ousted Klein. But a Turner spokes­woman de­nied that Kent played a part in the de­ci­sion and is­sued a state­ment from Kent say­ing he was “in full sup­port of his newly an­nounced or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­ture and lead­er­ship team.”

Klein was caught off guard by his dis­missal. “I don’t re­ally un­der­stand the tim­ing,” he said in an in­ter­view, adding that let­ting him go be­fore the net­work’s new shows pre­miere is like be­ing a base­ball man­ager who is “fired right be­fore the play­offs.”

Founded by me­dia mogul Ted Turner in 1980, CNN ini­tially was de­signed to be a tele­vi­sion ver­sion of all­news ra­dio. The story, not the per­son read­ing on cam­era, was sup­posed to be the star. For years it was a suc­cess­ful recipe. CNN rose into na­tional promi­nence with its ground­break­ing cov­er­age of the first Gulf War, which fea­tured Peter Ar­nett’s breath­tak­ing re­port­ing of the bomb­ing of Iraq. It put the cable news chan­nel on the map much the same way Ed­ward R. Mur­row’s cov­er­age of the bomb­ing of London did for CBS dur­ing World War II.

That all changed in the mid-1990s, when the In­ter­net ex­ploded as a vi­able plat­form for news and com­men­tary, co­in­cid­ing with the emer­gence of cable news ri­vals Fox News Chan­nel and MSNBC. Fox’s un­abashedly po­lit­i­cally con­ser­va­tive night­time lineup found a huge au­di­ence and shook up the rat­ings. Al­though MSNBC has gained some mo­men­tum cater­ing to po­lit­i­cal lib­er­als, both it and CNN are far be­hind Fox News in terms of rat­ings.

“Peo­ple don’t need the news wheel any­more, they’ve got that at the touch of a mouse,” said Frank Sesno, a for­mer se­nior CNN ex­ec­u­tive who now is a pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge Washington Uni­ver­sity. “CNN has been try­ing to find it­self for a decade.”

Mark Lennihan

SUR­PRISE OUSTER: Jon Klein’s con­tract at CNN had re­cently been ex­tended by sev­eral years.

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