CNN Announces Layoffs, New Digital Subscription Business

CNN announced layoffs of 100 employees, a reorganization of its newsrooms, and its “first direct-to-consumer subscription product.”

Photo of CNN building
Photo by Chris Yarzab via CC BY 2.0

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Same as the old boss? 

In a memo to staff on Wednesday, CNN chairman Mark Thompson announced a series of major changes at the cable news network, including the layoffs of 100 employees, a reorganization of its newsrooms, and the launch of its “first direct-to-consumer subscription product.” Sounds a lot like the short-lived, ill-fated CNN+, which the network’s new owners promptly shut down a little over two years ago because it didn’t fit their vision.

News You Can Lose

Like every other corner of the linear TV business, cable news is in an existential crisis. And perhaps no network more so than CNN. Following parent-company Warner Bros.’ merger with Discovery in 2022, newly installed (and since dispatched) CEO Chris Licht reportedly pushed staff to take a slightly more down-the-middle approach to political reporting. In an age of hyperpolarization, that doesn’t get you very far; ratings have plummeted to a consistent third place for the past two years, outflanked on the Left and Right by MSNBC and Fox News.

Now, Thompson is trying to reorient the TV news giant for a future in which TV isn’t all that central to the news ecosystem. Though, in 2022, the company launched and killed subscription service CNN+ in the span of just a month, details about the new not-so-first-ever CNN digital subscription service hints that leadership may be a little more forward-thinking this time around:

  • Essentially, the newsroom reorganization will tear down walls between CNN’s TV division and its web-based digital division, as well as barriers between its US and international bureaus, to create one unified newsroom.
  • While details remain sparse, the yet-to-be-named subscription service appears to be built on top of the mostly text-based, though it will highlight “CNN’s massive strength in video and anchoring/reporting talent,” per the memo — in other words, the platform will unify the network’s digital and TV arms. Thompson says he wants it launched before the end of the year.

The announcements served as a “[d]ose of cold realism in an industry that often manages to continue business-as-usual serving aging, shrinking audiences and dwindling number of advertisers while rhetorically insisting they are digital,” Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, wrote on X.

Crossfire: While CNN leans into a more à la carte strategy, the head honcho of parent WBD is seeing a slightly bigger picture. When asked about the upcoming presidential election at a media conference on Tuesday, WBD CEO David Zaslav said he simply hopes the winner is business-friendly, adding, “We just need an opportunity for deregulation so companies can consolidate and do what we need to to be even better.”