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Thursday, November 29, 2012

CNN taps Jeff Zucker to lead network

Atlanta-based CNN has tapped Jeff Zucker, the former chief executive of NBCUniversal whose long career at the media empire included occasional programming wins and the monstrosity known as Donald Trump's reality TV show, to lead the news network.

Politico's Dylan Byers picked up the memo that Phil Kent, the CEO of CNN's parent company Turner, sent to employees announcing the hire:

When Jim Walton announced his intention to step down at the end of the year, he specifically said that CNN needed "new thinking" to build upon our existing strengths and strong legacy. Jeff will provide that, and while he has enormous respect for our organization and brand, I expect that he also will challenge our thinking - yours and mine - in a very healthy and inclusive way. In a career that has seen significant professional success in both broadcast and cable, Jeff has demonstrated his ability to run multiple lines of business and fiercely defend journalists and journalism.

We have both short-term and long-term challenges ahead, from strengthening our normal news day programming to navigating through the changing consumption patterns of news. We are in a great position to do that with strong business fundamentals, terrific journalists and very strong platforms: two domestic networks, an international network and an innovative digital business, as well as our other enterprises.

The most obvious short-term challenge? Boosting ratings. The long-term? Sustaining that viewership and re-establishing an identity, a difficult task when Fox News and MSNBC have staked out the right and left, respectively. The New York Times' Brian Stelter aptly said in an article in advance of Zucker's hire:

The dwindling ratings have given rise to a popular sport: prescribing solutions for CNN. With news headlines now always a click away, what should the original cable news channel become? Among the unsolicited proposals: that CNN's channel in the United States act more like its harder-news sister CNN International; that it add more reality shows; or that it apply a filter to the news like those from Jon Stewart or the "Newsroom" character Will McAvoy.

"They don't want to be Fox and they don't want to be MSNBC. Fine. But 'neither nor' is not an identity," said the New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen. "It can't tell you what talent to hire, or what programs to try. They keep circling around the answer: declare jihad on the talking points and make that your identity, along with on-air fact-checking."

Zucker will be based out of New York, Kent tells employees, but will pop in to visit the Atlanta headquarters from time to time.

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