(New York) The CEO of CNN, Chris Licht, will leave the management of the American news channel, the group announced on Wednesday, after several weeks of turmoil within the editorial staff, which is facing an identity crisis. and a fall in its audiences.
The departure comes at a crucial time for CNN as the 2024 US presidential campaign kicks off, with elections traditionally providing a major boost to news channel audiences and revenue.
Officials at CNN’s parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, have yet to name a successor, according to a statement.
Chris Licht took the reins of the oldest continuous news channel in the United States in May 2022, after the sudden departure of the emblematic boss Jeff Zucker, who had not informed his leaders of his romantic relationship with a CNN executive.
Since then, the 50-year-old has tried to relaunch the old lady of continuous news, whose audiences are suffering from competition with its conservative rival Fox News, but also with MSNBC, with a more left-wing editorial line.
He has made several changes to the program schedule, without success so far, and attempted a few media stunts, first of all the live broadcast in public with Donald Trump as a guest, in mid-May.
This program was badly received by part of the public, but also within the editorial staff, who saw in it a platform offered without reservation to the former president, in front of an audience of Republican sympathizers for the most part committed to his cause. .
In addition, the show’s effect on audiences was short-lived, as a few days later CNN fell behind the small conservative channel Newsmax in the day’s rankings.
Chris Licht’s position was further weakened by the publication last week of a very long article in The Atlantic magazine, which highlighted the clear break between the leader and his teams.
“The task was not easy, especially at a time of great upheaval and transformation and Chris put his heart into it,” CNN parent company Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav said in a note. internal obtained by AFP. “Unfortunately things didn’t go as we had hoped and in the end I take responsibility,” he added.
The arrival of Chris Licht at CNN corresponded to a change of era within the channel, now part of the new unit Warner Bros Discovery, merger of the Discovery television group with its competitor Warner Bros, which also includes the HBO channel and the recently rebranded HBO Max streaming platform.
The boss of Discovery, David Zaslav, who became that of the merged group, imposed cost reductions and more restraint in spending related to content, a break for Warner Bros.
“It’s clear that he (Chris Licht) didn’t look well to the editors, but the question is whether it was for his management or because he was trying to push her in a direction in which she didn’t. didn’t want to go,” said DePauw University professor Jeffrey McCall.
“Chris Licht tried to bring CNN back to the field of direct journalism”, in a less subjective tone, continues the academic, for whom the channel “had become ideologically oriented”, which “had limited their audience to the left”, field already occupied by MSNBC.
“Licht and his bosses are wrong to think that people want information that’s right in the middle” editorially, said columnist Cynthia Tucker, whose posts appear in several newspapers. “If that were the case, (the public broadcaster) PBS”, very moderately toned, “would be at the top of the ratings. »
News of Chris Licht’s departure was welcomed by Wall Street. Warner Bros. Discovery stock was up 4.50% around 12 p.m. ET on the New York Stock Exchange.