In a must read, Reese Schonfeld takes to the Huffington Post to eviscerate Turner Networks, Jeff Zucker, and CNN. Yes, it does come off as rather self-serving and unlike Schonfeld I do not for one second believe Zucker’s head may already be on the chopping block and I would never EVER count Pat Buchanan as one of “the most important journalists of their time”, but it still has to sting for those who remember the CNN of old…
CNN’s CEO, Jeff Zucker, was appointed by Bewkes a year and a half ago. His presence has not improved CNN ratings. He was just finishing up as the Executive Producer of the failing Katie Couric show and previously had been ousted as the NBC boss when Comcast acquired the network. All too often, MBAs hire people who previously held important jobs but failed at them. They then of course blame the failure on the guy they hired and Zucker’s head may already be on the chopping block.
I built CNN for 12 months, and as CEO operated for the first 23 months of its on-the-air existence. When I left it had a rating of one point, the highest rating its ever had over a six month period. Twenty years later, in 2000, when I went down to help celebrate its 20th anniversary, its ratings were at half a point. Since then, they’ve been stuck around there, bailed out by big stories, if and when they occur. We had people on staff like Bernie Shaw, Pat Buchanan, Lou Dobbs, Jim Miklaszewski, Mary Alice Williams, Mike Boettcher, Peter Arnett, Elsa Klensch and Jean Carper. Every one of them, even those whose names you might not remember, were among the most important journalists of their time. There’s no one now at CNN in their league.
Phil Griffin, now the head of MSNBC, and Dan Patrick, the ESPN broadcaster/writer, both got their starts there under the best sports executive who ever lived, Bill MacPhail. Keith Olbermann was there too. It was a hell of a team. I hate to admit that I can’t remember the name of one of CNN’s current sports guys.
Over the past 14 years, first under Jim Walton and now Zucker, CNN has starred such personalities as Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper — both competent but neither a guy who has rating points and no one at CNN has introduced a new breakthrough program. CNN fails to thrive unless it’s live.
I believe that it will take a lot of news intelligence and creativity to turn CNN around. Cutting costs and firing guys will not do it.