Final spring, because the pandemic was wreaking havoc on funds all through the media trade, Jeff Zucker was knowledgeable that some cuts could be essential at CNN. The 55-year-old community president was on a video name with firm brass, together with John Stankey, who was within the midst of being promoted to CEO of AT&T, the father or mother firm of CNN’s father or mother firm, WarnerMedia. Budgets have been tight, Zucker was informed, and financial savings could be required throughout the WarnerMedia portfolio, which additionally consists of Warner Bros., HBO, and the previous Turner Broadcasting networks.
Zucker pushed again arduous, in keeping with a number of folks conversant in the assembly. It didn’t make any sense to trim CNN contemplating its numbers have been so robust, he argued. (Annual earnings are stated to be simply north of $1 billion.) Zucker additionally pulled out the trump card, because it have been: How wouldn’t it look if there have been finances cuts at CNN in the midst of an election 12 months, with Donald Trump and his supporters attacking the channel nonstop?
Certainly one of my sources conversant in the assembly emphasised that the dialogue was about company overhead and never news-gathering positions, however however, the decision turned “frequent information” internally and “was talked about all over the place,” one other supply informed me. The anecdote is an efficient illustration of why plenty of CNN staff don’t need to see Zucker go—folks there “really feel like he has their again, and I don’t know if anybody else can replicate that sense of assist,” one CNN journalist informed me. “In 40 years of CNN, the place has by no means been outlined by its chief like it’s proper now. It’s like Roger Ailes with out the sexual abuse and hush cash.”
There’s a widespread altering of the guard all through the journalism world, with management in flux each at institution titans, like The Washington Publish, Reuters, and ABC Information, and newer digital gamers, like HuffPost and Vox. Zucker leaving CNN would arguably be essentially the most seismic turnover of all of them, which accounts for the extreme curiosity relating to his future there. Zucker is broadly revered throughout the community (though there’s a minimum of a sure contingent that complains of him being a “micromanager,” as The Wall Road Journal put it, and getting a bit of too concerned within the trivia of day-to-day information protection). Are his days at CNN numbered, or will he keep on a minimum of by way of the top of his present contract, which has a couple of 12 months left on it? Staffers apparently received’t have to attend for much longer to listen to from Zucker with a solution to that query. “It will likely be very quickly,” somebody near him informed me.
Hypothesis has been scorching because the fall, each inside CNN and out. Zucker informed staffers in October that he was weighing whether or not or to not keep in his job and wouldn’t decide till after the election. Proper earlier than Thanksgiving, a educated supply informed me that some folks excessive up at WarnerMedia have been saying Zucker was anticipated to go away within the first quarter of 2021, someday after the inauguration. The Trump saga, during which CNN performed a starring position, could be over by then, and this was additionally on the heels of a major conflict between Zucker and Jason Kilar, who succeeded Stankey as WarnerMedia’s CEO after Stankey was bumped upstairs.
Since then, Kilar has praised Zucker effusively. “The 2 finest issues that ever occurred to CNN have been Ted Turner and Jeff Zucker,” Kilar stated on Kara Swisher’s New York Occasions podcast in December, when Swisher requested flat out if Zucker was leaving. “I believe it will be nice for Jeff to be right here for the following 50 years.” (Swisher additionally famous, in her no-bullshit fashion, that Kilar hadn’t answered the query instantly.)
One other improvement is CNN’s triumphant resurgence within the cable-news-ratings wars lengthy dominated by Fox Information. Zucker had already delivered an viewers revival for CNN, which was in dire straits earlier than his coronation as community president in 2013 following a protracted profession at NBC. (He was in fact aided by the ever-bonkers Trump information cycle, and he nonetheless receives criticism for giving Trump an excessive amount of free media within the run-up to the 2016 election.) However the unprecedented fireworks of the Trump–Biden transition, from Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell’s unhinged election-fraud campaign to the lethal revolt on the Capitol, catapulted CNN to a spot it hadn’t been for a while: primary. Monday marked the community’s ninetieth day beating Fox Information and MSNBC within the coveted 25-54 age bracket that issues most for advertisers. CNN has had a run of first-place wins in whole every day viewers as effectively, though Fox Information has these days been regaining some floor, significantly in prime time. Programming on the day of the Capitol riots was the most-watched in CNN’s historical past, with a complete of roughly 5.2 million viewers (in comparison with 4 million for MSNBC and a pair of.99 million for Fox). CNN topped the month-to-month scores in January, with MSNBC in second, marking the primary time in twenty years that Fox Information positioned behind its two fundamental cable information rivals.