It wasn’t personal. It was strictly business.
Discovery appears to have taken that Michael Corleone approach last week when it stunningly shut down CNN+ less than a month after it launched.
CNN spent some $300 million on this new streaming service. It brought in big-time names — journalists such as Chris Wallace, Kasie Hunt and Audie Cornish and entertainers such as Eva Longoria. It signed up some of its own talent — Jake Tapper, Anderson Cooper, Sara Sidner, just to name a few — to host their own shows.
It hyped the launch for months just like it was a … well, space launch to Mars or something.
And now, just like that, it has crashed. Why?
A perfect storm of events led to CNN+’s demise. CNN president Jeff Zucker, a huge advocate of CNN+, resigned under fire in early February. CNN rushed to launch the service just before CNN’s owners, WarnerMedia, merged with Discovery. Then poor numbers, perhaps in the neighborhood of 150,000 subscribers with only 10,000 watching at any given time, sent bean counters into meetings.
As Michael said, it’s strictly business.
Axios media reporter Sara Fischer, appearing on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources,” told CNN’s Brian Stelter that executives of Discovery simply weren’t on board with CNN+ because it didn’t fit into their overall streaming philosophy of having one big entertainment streaming service.
Fischer said, “CNN+ is a smaller subscription service. Ultimately they took a look at the books after the merger completed on April 8. They thought this is too expensive. It might not ever get to profit on time and it doesn’t fit in with what we want to do. It’s better to cut it off now than keep it lagging for months.”
David Zaslav, the new chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery, was in his new office all of three days when he agreed with his leadership team to shut down CNN+.
In a story about the implosion of CNN+ for The New York Times, John Koblin, Michael M. Grynbaum and Benjamin Mullin wrote, “The near-instant collapse of CNN+ amounted to one of the most spectacular media failures in years, a $300 million experiment that ended abruptly with layoffs in the offing and careers in disarray. The corporate tug of war over its fate exposed deep philosophical divides about the future of digital media, as executives struggle to navigate a rapidly changing marketplace where technology and consumer habits shift day to day.”
The Times’ detailed autopsy of what went wrong included several interesting items, including that Zaslav and Zucker, who have been longtime friends and business allies, have not spoken since Feb. 2. Looking back, Zucker’s departure was one of the worst things that could have happened to CNN+.
WarnerMedia chief executive Jason Kilar forged ahead with the CNN+ plans despite the impending merger. The Times wrote, “Mr. Zaslav and his team were confounded. Discovery was poised to take over the company within weeks. Why not just delay? Still, aides to Mr. Zaslav admitted one advantage: they would get a look at CNN+ performance, akin to a movie’s opening-night box office. Maybe once they looked under the hood, CNN+ would exceed their low expectations.”
Apparently, CNN+ did not meet even those low expectations.
The new boss
Shutting down part of your company and potentially laying off dozens, if not hundreds, isn’t how you want to start your tenure as president of a TV network. But that’s the spot Chris Licht finds himself in as the new president of CNN. Licht doesn’t officially start until May 2, but he already addressed the company in the wake of shutting down CNN+.
According to CNBC’s Alex Sherman, Licht told employees in his introductory speech, “This is a uniquely s—-y situation.”
Sherman also pointed out what could have been another major factor in CNN+’s problems. Remember Zucker resigned for failing to disclose a consensual relationship with one his lieutenants. That lieutenant was Allison Gollust, CNN Worldwide’s chief marketing officer. Gollust was in charge of promoting the new service, but she was forced out, too, because of her relationship with Zucker. The remaining employees continued to believe in CNN+.
“But without Gollust,” Sherman wrote, “internal sources said marketing of the product wasn’t as strong in the key weeks before launch. Staffers said (CNN Worldwide chief digital officer and CNN+ head Andrew) Morse was working overtime by that point, trying to wear multiple hats by running the service and getting support from corporate — previously the jobs of Zucker and Gollust. As a result, the internal marketing of CNN+ — how CNN executives viewed the product compared with Discovery’s incoming leadership — helped lead to its demise.”
Did Gollust leaving kill CNN+? No. But it didn’t help.
More from the Taylor Lorenz story about the Libs of TikTok
I’m still absolutely flabbergasted that so many people, including those who consider themselves journalists, had a problem with the work of Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz and her story, “Meet the woman behind Libs of TikTok, secretly fueling the right’s outrage machine.”
It’s no surprise that some who work at conservative media outlets are outraged by Lorenz’s story and reporting — probably because they’re more upset about the facts of the story and that Lorenz and the Post reported on it to begin with. But to see such reaction from some just shows their ignorance about how journalism works.
They are upset that a woman (Chaya Raichik) who had previously been anonymous was revealed to be behind the influential Twitter account, even though the information was easily available on the internet. They were upset that Lorenz, after failing to reach Raichik by phone, did what any respectable journalist would do and that’s go knocking on doors looking for Raichik — to make sure she had the right Chaya Raichik and, most importantly, to give Raichik a chance to respond.
To be clear, the Libs of TikTok account reposts videos that stir up outrage directed at LGBTQ+ people. As Lorenz accurately wrote in her story, the account is often quoted by powerful figures in conservative media and has “become an agenda-setter in right-wing online discourse, and the content it surfaces shows a direct correlation with the recent push in legislation and rhetoric directly targeting the LGBTQ+ community.”
The account is registered as a media company and Raichik, although anonymous at the time, regularly gave interviews to people such as The New York Post and Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. Yes, it’s important to find out who is behind the account.
Lorenz appeared on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources” on CNN and smartly pointed out that, for all we knew, the account was run by a foreign agent.
Lorenz told “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter, “The entire goal of the account is to direct hate to trans and LBTQ people. … She has also talked about globalizing her base to run for local school boards and is collecting email lists, which 100% could be used for political purposes. So this is a political force. This is an influential force. The idea that this woman is not newsworthy is quite nonsense.”
Lorenz covers social media influencers and told Stelter that Raichik is more influential than many of the people she has reported on. But that hasn’t stopped many on the right from complaining.
“The right will make this argument because they don’t want scrutiny,” Lorenz said. “Powerful people do not want scrutiny. They want to be able to discredit the media so they can operate with impunity. … I think we should scrutinize anyone who has power in this country, anyone that is influencing politics and legislation and public sentiment in the media. Those figures are important to look at.”
As far as “doxxing” goes, Lorenz pointed out that she and the Post did not reveal any personal information about Raichik.
The world’s richest man, Elon Musk, sent social media into a frenzy Sunday morning when he tweeted, “Moving on …”
The assumption was that he was moving on from his bid to take over Twitter. Almost immediately, the tweet drew more than 200,000 likes and wild speculation about his plans (or perhaps canceled plans) for Twitter. Turns out, it had nothing to do with Twitter.
About three hours later his moving tweet, he followed with a tweet that said, “(from making fun of Gates for shorting Tesla while claiming to support climate change action).”
Ah yes, Musk trolling the world.
On Saturday, Musk took a verbal shot at Bill Gates, including making fun of Gates’ weight. Business Insider’s Bethany Biron wrote, “On Friday, Musk confirmed the veracity of leaked texts between the two tech moguls in which Musk turned down a request from Gates to discuss a possible philanthropic venture because of his ‘massive short position against Tesla.’”
According to screenshots of a text message exchange between Musk and Gates, Musk said, “Sorry, but I cannot take your philanthropy on climate change seriously when you have a massive short position against Tesla, the company doing the most to solve climate change.”
Biron wrote, “The text came after Musk asked if Gates still had ‘a half billion dollar short position against Tesla.’ A short position usually involves betting a stock’s value will fall by selling a borrowed stock with the intention of buying it back later at a lower price.”
Gates had written, “Sorry to say I haven’t closed it out. I would like to discuss philanthropy possibilities.”
So while two of the world’s richest people have their little drama, it appears nothing has changed about Musk’s interest in taking over Twitter. In fact, things could be heating up.
On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal’s Cara Lombardo reported, “Twitter Re-Examines Elon Musk’s Bid, May Be More Receptive to a Deal.” And then The New York Times’ Lauren Hirsch and Mike Isaac followed up with “Twitter’s Board Is Said to Seriously Consider Elon Musk’s Bid.” Hirsch and Isaac wrote, “Any deal remains far from certain, but the willingness of Twitter’s board to engage with Mr. Musk, the world’s richest man, represents a step forward.”
The next New York Times boss
Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan writes about soon-to-be New York Times executive editor Joe Kahn in her latest column — “Joe Kahn can be a great New York Times editor.” Kahn was named last week to take over for Dean Baquet on June 14.
Sullivan was the public editor (or ombudswoman) of the Times from 2012 to 2016. She wrote, “I have been hoping, for some time, that Joe Kahn would get the nod, as he did last week. I know him to be a thoughtful, smart and accomplished newsman and a person of judgment and integrity. Just as important, he has a quality that can make all the difference in whether he rises to the challenge of this hinge moment in U.S. and world history: He’s open to criticism.”
But where is the criticism coming from? In large part, from social media and, to a much lesser extent, from media writers/observers. When the Times eliminated its own public editor in 2017, the excuse was, in part, because there were so many out there keeping an eye on the Times.
Sullivan, however, wrote, “That argument never made sense since the public editor, by definition, was in a position to seek responses from editors and relay that response to readers, along with her own judgment. That’s not so with complaints on Twitter, which are largely ignored and viewed internally as just so much annoying noise.”
Sullivan, and many others, don’t expect the Times to reinstate its public editor. But they are hoping the Times continues to dissect how it covers news, particularly in today’s ever-changing political climate in which there are so many bad actors who continue to chip away at democracy by using disinformation, misinformation and outright lies for political gain and division.
About that photo …
Speaking of Kahn, right after he was named, New York Magazine ran an in-depth profile written by Shawn McCreesh. It included a rather odd (somewhat disturbing?) photo of Kahn in a shirt and tie and dress pants kind of lounging on the floor with The New York Times and a coffee cup next to him.
Social media had a field day with the, um, peculiar photo. The New York Post’s Hannah Sparks wrote, “The resulting, perhaps unintentional, erotica — featuring enough arched-back, pointed toe and come hither gaze to make pinup pioneers Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe proud — might just drive foot fetishists everywhere into a frenzy, as well.”
Hey, give credit to Kahn for having fun with it. Kahn told Bloomberg’s Gerry Smith, “One of the things I’ve learned is that you should say ‘no’ to certain things that a photographer asked you to do to enhance the shot.”
The latest notable journalism from Russia-Ukraine
- For The New York Times, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Natalia Yermak (and photographs by Tyler Hicks) with “In a Ukrainian School, 12 People Await the War’s End, or Their Own.”
- Also in The New York Times, Jane Arraf with “A family of six walks for days to escape the besieged city of Mariupol. Here is their story.”
- The Associated Press’ Justin Spike with “Far from home, Ukrainian refugees pray at Easter for peace.”
- Los Angeles Times Washington columnist Doyle McManus with “Biden’s escalating aid to Ukraine reflects a sea change in U.S. foreign policy.”
- Joe Ferullo’s latest column for The Hill: “Are journalism and Twitter headed for splitsville?”
- The Washington Post’s Jada Yuan with “Jon Stewart cares less about his legacy than you do.”
- Then again, there’s The Atlantic’s Devin Gordon with “What happened to Jon Stewart?”
- Politico senior media writer Jack Shafer with “Kevin McCarthy Will Live to Lie Again.”
- Local news anchor Jim Hartz, a brief co-host of NBC’s “Today” show, died on April 17. He was 82. Here are obits from The New York Times’ Anita Gates and The Washington Post’s Matt Schudel.
- Barbara Allen, Poynter’s director of college programming, with “How to build a better journalism school.”
- Kara Swisher’s latest “Sway” podcast for The New York Times is with the late-night host in “Jimmy Kimmel Made a Joke. Then Marjorie Taylor Greene Called the Police on Him.”
- Superb work from The New York Times’ Matt Richtel (and photos from Annie Flanagan): “‘It’s Life or Death’: The Mental Health Crisis Among U.S. Teens.”
- Molly Parker for The Southern Illinoisan and Vernal Coleman and Haru Coryne from ProPublica with “The State Took His Kids Three Times. And Three Times It Gave Them Back.”
- Esquire’s Maris Kreizman with “The 26 True Crime Books Everyone Needs to Read.”
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at email@example.com.
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