Klein Wants to Energize CNN

New Cable News Network president Jonathan Klein said his priority will be focusing on making the channel's primetime programming more “provocative” and engaging to viewers.

He has his work cut out for him, as many have failed in their bids to create appointment viewing at night for CNN. In fact, for the past several years, the network has become a sort of revolving door for executives daunted by that challenge.

That doesn't seem to faze Klein, whose appointment was announced last week.

“The mission is to make sure that the range of stories that we're covering, and that the approach that we take to covering them, especially in primetime, resonates with that audience and answers the questions that are most heavily on their minds about the world around them,” Klein told reporters during a conference call.

In the latest in a string of executive changes, CBS News and 60 Minutes veteran Klein was appointed president of CNN/U.S., replacing local-news veteran Princell Hair, who has essentially been doing that job for just over a year.

Klein will oversee CNN's domestic network — which has been dramatically surpassed in viewership by the seemingly unstoppable Fox News Channel— creating programming and shaping its editorial tone and direction.

“Interesting, arresting, provocative, engaging: Those are all words that I hope can be associated with CNN in the months and the years ahead,” Klein said. “There's a lot of ways to skin a story and we're going to use all of them.”

Klein will be based in New York and will report to Jim Walton, president of the CNN News Group.

Though he credited CNN with excelling at newsgathering, Klein said, “What I'd like to address is how we tell stories, and how we take all of that material that we gather and turn it into a compelling product that engages the audience in primetime.”

Hair, the executive vice president and general manager of CNN since September 2003, will remain as senior vice president of program and talent development, working with the whole CNN New Group portfolio of TV networks and businesses.

Ken Jautz, general manager of soon to be defunct CNNfn, will be given broader duties as executive vice president for the CNN News Group.

In addition to oversight of Headline News, Jautz will be responsible for operations and administration, media operations, and program and talent development for the News Group.

Walton told reporters that CNN has had a record year, with the whole news group posting a 35% year-to-year gain in profits.

He also said viewership gains at top-rated all-news network Fox News Channel were coming at the expense of the broadcasters, not CNN.

In the third quarter, CNN posted a 0.8 in primetime, up 14% from a year ago, according to Nielsen Media Research data provided by the Disney ABC Cable Networks Group.

But CNN's number was doubled by Fox News, which did a 1.6 rating, up 33%.

Walton said CNN needed a boost on several fronts. “When we looked at CNN/U.S. and what we needed to do going forward to position ourselves to continue to grow, we felt that we needed a stronger, more urgent, push to the editorial direction and the strategic direction,” he said.

Klein joins CNN from The FeedRoom Inc, where he oversaw the world's largest broadband news network.

But he spent most of his career at CBS. From 1996 through 1998, he was executive vice president of CBS News, where his executive oversight included 60 Minutes and other CBS newsmagazines.

He also brought CNN's Christiane Amanpour to 60 Minutes as a contributor; redesigned 48 Hours; and launched Coast to Coast and Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel.

“I'm just thrilled to have arrived at a place that's got essentially unmatched, unfair advantages,” Klein said. “We've just got such an extensive newsgathering capability We've got first dibs on any story that's moving anywhere in the world. We've got amazing people who are committed to getting the story right and getting it first. Now we're going to work together to tell those stories in a way that really connects the American viewing audience.”

Klein began at CBS as a news writer and editor on CBS Nightwatch and went on to produce CBS Morning News and CBS Weekend News; 48 Hours; and live coverage of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Hair had joined CNN from Viacom Inc., where he was vice president of news for its TV stations. He replaced then-general manager Teya Ryan. Rick Kaplan is another executive who exited CNN's revolving door.

Walton said CNN is not in merger talks with any of the broadcast networks.

Klein isn't worried about the high executive-turnover rate at CNN and said he doesn't have a deadline to boost ratings.

“There's no gun to the head,” Klein said. “We all know how glacially ratings tend to move — Fox's, too. You've got to just put the building blocks in place and then promote well, and market well and make sure the audience understands what you're doing and deliver time and time again.”