Updated at 1:45 p.m. ET
Jon Klein, president of CNN/U.S., is out at CNN amid a restructuring at the top of the company that will culminate with the creation of a new executive VP and managing editor reporting directly to Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide.
Ken Jautz, who previously ran CNN sister network HLN, will move into Klein's position heading up CNN/U.S. as executive VP. And Scot Safon, formerly chief marketing officer for CNN Worldwide, will replace Jautz, becoming executive VP of HLN. Both appointments are effective immediately and both men report to Walton.
Walton said that he is looking at internal and external candidates to fill the managing editor role.
"We have some folks in-house who will certainly be considered," said Walton during a conference call with reporters on Friday. "We are also going to recruit and look outside. This is a big job and there's no doubt in my mind that we'll find somebody great for it."
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," said Walton. "I understand it. Our primetime stars are in many people's opinion the face of CNN."
Reached by B&C, Klein said 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," said Klein. "That was not a set up 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."
Although there has 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.
"It's hard to read about CNN's woes in press, especially at a place like this where people sacrifice so much," said one staffer. "They miss birthdays and anniversaries and get sent to really bad places. People take it very seriously. So you can't just slough it off."
Walton said that he and Jautz are fully behind the new primetime shows developed under Klein's watch. Parker/Spitzer, which has disgraced New York governor Eliot Spitzer and conservative columnist Kathleen Parker co-hosting 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.
Phil Kent, chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting System, voiced support for the new management structure as well as the new programming lineup.
"Jim Walton is a world-class leader, and I'm in full support of his newly announced organizational structure and leadership team," Kent said in a statement. "The new managing editor role will build on the network's unique strengths in journalism and on CNN's quality editorial voice across all platforms. I'm also very confident in CNN's programming strategy, including the network's upcoming fall shows. I believe these changes will position CNN/U.S. and HLN for future growth and success."
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 down-the-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," said Walton. "I think it's a lot less likely for what we'll call a traditional newscast 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."
Asked if the media focus on CNN's ratings has damaged the brand with advertisers, Walton cited the company's multiplatform business model and successful upfront underscoring the network's non-partisan approach.
"For lack of a better expression, CNN is pure and has class and advertisers want to be associated with that," said Walton. "Now there's no question that we need to do better on the ratings front. But specifically to the question of has it done any damage to the brand? I don't think so. I think advertisers understand."
Indeed, even as Fox News and increasingly MSNBC regularly draw more viewers than CNN, the network remains popular with advertisers.
"They're not way behind in the revenue like they are in the ratings," said Gary Carr, senior VP and executive director of national broadcast at ad buyer TargetCast tcm.
"They've got a strong sales staff and they push the network as the biggest news brand on the planet, with the airline network, online, mobile and other stuff. There are still some people deep down who don't want to be part of the screaming and yelling and want to support a quality news brand."
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