News executives may want to polish up their resumes. ABC News is already in the market to replace David Westin, and now CNN is looking for a new managing editor and executive VP who will report right into CNN Worldwide President Jim Walton.
That search began with a restructuring that pushed out CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein. Ken Jautz, who previously ran CNN sister network HLN, will move into Klein’s position heading up CNN/U.S. And Scot Safon, formerly chief marketing officer for CNN Worldwide, will replace Jautz at HLN. Both appointments are effective immediately, and both men report to Walton.
Klein’s six-year tenure at CNN coincided with a ratings free-fall at the network, especially in primetime. And Walton acknowledged CNN’s primetime failures.
“There have been a number of stories over the last few months about the end of CNN and the doom and gloom,” Walton says. “I understand it. Our primetime stars are in many people’s opinion the face of CNN.”
Klein told B&C that his departure, which he described as “amicable as you can have in these situations,” was precipitated by the new management structure. “They want to bring in a managing editor who is going to report to Jim and oversee editorial for all the platforms,” Klein said. “That was not a setup that I agreed with.”
Asked if he thought the network’s primetime ratings contributed to his departure, Klein said, “I don’t know. But I don’t think so. We had hatched our plans to address those issues.”
Walton said that he and Jautz are fully behind the new primetime shows developed under Klein’s watch. Parker/Spitzer, which features disgraced New York governor Eliot Spitzer and conservative columnist Kathleen Parker cohosting a topical program at 8 p.m., bows Oct. 4. And Piers Morgan, a veteran of the British tabloids and the acerbic judge on NBC’s America’s Got Talent, will take over for Larry King in January.
CNN has struggled to compete against opinionated primetime hosts on Fox News and MSNBC and even the outsize personalities (Nancy Grace, Joy Behar) on HLN. Parker/Spitzer at least represents a departure in some ways from CNN’s stated mission of downthe- middle journalism.
And Walton acknowledged that the company may have to take a different tack in primetime. “Can you win in primetime with good journalism? I think that we have to evolve the way we do things,” Walton explained. “I think it’s a lot less likely for what we’ll call a traditional newscast for to be successful in primetime. But I think there are programming fundamentals that we can incorporate in primetime and still be smart and journalistically sound. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Although there had been a steady drumbeat in the media that Klein’s days may be numbered, staffers at CNN were nonetheless caught off guard by the Friday morning announcement from Walton. There was a sense that Klein would at least be left in place until the new programming had a chance to debut, said multiple staffers.
But Jautz is also well liked within the organization, and many see his ascent as a potential calming influence for an organization battered by negative media coverage.
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