CNN slashes staff, eliminates live news on HLN
By Matt Collins Article may include affiliate links
It was not immediately clear how many staffers were let go, but a CNBC source said that the percentage was in the “single digits,” meaning that, according to published headcounts, no more than around 400 employees would have been affected.
CNN CEO Chris Licht also announced that HLN would cease producing original programming and that “Morning Express,” its last remaining live newscast, would be canceled.
Longtime anchor Robin Meade was laid off, as was the entire Atlanta-based team behind the show, with Licht calling her “an exceptionally popular anchor” in his memo to staff.
In place of “Morning Express,” HLN will air a simulcast of “CNN This Morning,” the new morning show that launched Nov. 1, 2022.
The weekend editions of “CNN This Morning” were being split-anchored with Boris Sanchez in Washington and Amara Walker in Atlanta. Walker just signed on to CNN in October 2022 and it was not immediately clear if that arrangement will continue, though the network is expected to maintain studios in Georgia.
HLN’s true crime programming, which occupied most of the rest of its schedule, will move under Warner Bros. Discovery Networks chief Kathleen Finch, where it will be paired with the teams behind ID programming.
CNN International is also undergoing a reorganization of “some” of its teams and bureaus and will start simulcasting CNN’s U.S. feed from 5 to 5:30 p.m. eastern.
Newsgathering operations are also changing, with correspondents Alison Kosik, Alex Field and Martin Savidge among the big names let go. Behind the scenes, northeast news VP Mary Anne Fox was laid off.
Licht noted, however, that many of the layoffs in newsgathering will be offset by the creation of new positions, though he did not specify what those roles would be or if affected staffers would be qualified to apply for them.
Political analyst Chris Cillizza was among those cut this week as well. Licht also announced the network would shift its approach with paid contributors and analysts, letting go an unspecified number while focusing more on ones who are “subject-matter experts that expand and diversify the viewpoints.”
Paid contributors and analysts have become commonplace in network news as a way to fill panel discussions and add perspective to reports. Unlike correspondents and newsroom staffers, contributors and analysts can be hired to represent a specific viewpoint, perspective or set of knowledge. Many contributors and analysts have other full-time jobs, including at another media outlet, and can supplement their income through book sales, paid speaking engagements, professorships or working for non-profits or think tank-type organizations.
Licht has stated that one of his goals is to return CNN to its roots as news organization, presumably shifting away from some analysis and commentary that had become more popular on the channel in recent years, especially during Donald Trump’s administration.
During this time, the network became a common target of Trump, with him labeling it as “fake news.”
Earlier this year, the network let go Brian Stelter, its media correspondent, who had become labeled by some as overly partisan.
Some believe these approach is to blame for the network’s significant ratings losses in recent years — and there have been reports that its new owners are eager to shift approaches in hopes of improving ratings. CNN regularly finishes behind Fox’s conservative commentary channel and MSNBC in total viewers.
There have been other reports saying that WBD execs have issued an edict that the network become more center-of-the-road, though any direct order has been denied by leadership at both WBD and CNN.
CNN is also making changes to its creative marketing, programming, research and operations teams, though Licht’s memo referred only to “restructuring” and “reorganizing,” terms that often are euphemisms for at least some layoffs, though it was not immediately clear if jobs were lost in these areas.
In the memo, Licht noted that employees assigned to specific programs may be cut and that a “combination of teams for our dayside and weekend lineups” will be used for some.
Two areas that appeared to not be heavily affected Dec. 1 included CNN Digital, which already saw a round of layoffs earlier in the year, and CNN en Español. Licht announced the network’s linear Spanish-language offering would begin expanding programming behind news and said he plans for it to “develop a far more robust digital platform” that he hopes to launch in 2024.
CNN Digital had also already been hit hard after the network shuttered its streaming service CNN+ after less than a month in March 2022, with an unconfirmed number of people losing their jobs, though it reportedly hired around 700 people to work on the service.
CNN’s world headquarters and main newsroom remain in Atlanta, where much of the network’s dayside programming originally originated from. However, both New York and Washington, D.C. have become more prominent production hubs for the network, with HLN being the main exception.
“Morning Express” had previously moved into Studio 7 in CNN Center in Atlanta, which was originally built as one of several primary studios for CNN proper in the facility.
HLN was originally known as both CNN2 and CNN Headline News, but changed its name to HLN (an abbreviation of “Headline News”) in 2008 after the network cut back on original news programming.
Headline News originally used a news wheel and jukebox-style format to offer news, sports, weather and lifestyle content 24 hours a day, typically presented in a more straightforward, faster-paced format and without panels or commentary.
That format was abandoned, however, after an attempts to offer blocks of news during select dayside hours, leaving “Morning Express” as the only newscast on the channel. True crime series then became a staple on the rest of the schedule.
CNN has billed the cuts as necessary for the company to continue operating in the current business and media climate. When Discovery was looking into buying WarnerMedia, CNN’s former parent, it showcased across-the-board cost savings as one of the key benefits to investors. As with most mergers, at least some of those savings were expected by cutting staff whose roles were previously duplicated across the two separate companies.
Despite lower ratings, CNN is still immensely profitable — it had been making WarnerMedia over $1 billion per year, though that figured is expected to dip in 2022.
The full text of Licht’s memo appears below:
December 1, 2022
To my CNN colleagues,
As promised in my note yesterday, I am following up with an overview of the changes we have made across the company. Our goal throughout the strategic review process has been to better align our people, processes and resources with our future priorities, strengthen our ability to deliver on CNN’s core journalistic mission and enable us to innovate in the years ahead. At the highest level, the goal is to direct our resources to best serve and grow audiences for our core news programming and products.
To achieve these goals, we will be reducing open job positions, reimagining our workflows and aligning our staffing, investments and focus around three key strategic priorities: programming, newsgathering and digital. All decisions are designed to strengthen the core of our business.
While it is not possible to capture every impacted role in an email like this, I want to walk through the broader changes we are making:
Beginning December 6, CNN will no longer produce live programming for HLN and instead will simulcast CNN This Morning. HLN Crime programming will move under the WBD Networks led by Kathleen Finch and will be merged with ID. I want to take a moment to thank Robin Meade— she is not only an exceptionally popular anchor, but also one of the longest-running morning hosts in history. I know the HLN audience will miss her and the other HLN talent.
CNN International is reorganizing some of its teams and bureaus, and effective immediately, the 5:00-5:30pm ET show will be replaced by a simulcast of CNN US for that half hour.
CNN en Español
CNNE’s linear network will seek to expand its audience by diversifying the network’s programming beyond news. We will continue to produce news for CNNE, and throughout next year, we will look to develop a far more robust digital platform for CNNE with the aim of launching it in 2024. We believe that investment will better serve and significantly grow our Spanish-language news audience, and we will have more to share on that in 2023.
We are restructuring across some of our beats, realigning resources to staff up in some units and in more areas around the country. This will help us deliver on our goal of covering the United States more broadly. Many of the staff reductions in Newsgathering will be offset by the addition of new roles to best serve our audience across platforms.
We are also shifting our approach to paid contributors. In some areas, we will rely more on our CNN journalists. Overall, we will engage contributors who are subject-matter experts that expand and diversify the viewpoints we bring our audience.
Our programming teams will see some reductions in show staffs and, in some cases, the combination of teams for our dayside and weekend lineups.
The Creative Marketing team will see an overall reduction in size, realigning around in-house production and consolidating creative and strategy roles in New York. Roles will be added to both support that work and expand our digital and growth marketing efforts.
Research is reorganizing to focus resources on CNN’s core businesses and to optimize our recently integrated Digital Analytics and Data Science teams.
The Operations teams are restructuring to align with the changes to other units across the organization.
CNN Digital conducted an exercise earlier this fall to ensure they were best structured for the future. They made changes then and, as a result, there are no further impacts in this process.
The changes we are making today are necessary and will make us stronger and better positioned to place big bets going forward without fear of failure.
To our departing colleagues, I want to express my gratitude for your dedicated and tireless service and for your many contributions to CNN. To all employees, I want to underscore the importance of taking the time you need to best be able to move forward. You can find resources to support you now here. I will be holding a town hall on Tuesday to answer your questions, which can be submitted anonymously here.
I am proud of this CNN team, and together we will ensure CNN continues to be the world’s most vital source of news and information.