July 11, 2024

Mark Thompson took over as the big boss at CNN in October 2023, looking to stabilize and then revitalize the network following the wobbly and brief tenure of Chris Licht.

On Wednesday, in a memo to staff, Thompson announced some big changes. Included in Thompson’s announcement are plans for a new subscription-only digital offering. But it also included some all-too-familiar news in the media industry: layoffs.

As CNN reorganizes, 100 staffers (or about 3% of CNN’s workforce) will lose their jobs.

Thompson wrote, “Wherever possible, we’ve closed open positions rather than target currently occupied roles. However, some of our colleagues will learn today that their jobs are being eliminated or are at risk.”

CNN’s Oliver Darcy wrote, “Since his appointment last year, Thompson has been candid about the challenges facing CNN, stressing to staffers that swift and dramatic steps are necessary to reorient the television-focused news organization for a digital future.”

Speaking of that digital future, Thompson laid out an ambitious plan:

  • A “billion-dollar plus digital business of the future”
  • “Best-in-class, subscriber-first products that provide need-to-know news, analysis and context in compelling formats and experiences”
  • And, get this part, the network’s “first subscription product launching before the end of 2024”

In his note to staff, Thompson wrote, “Turning a great news organization towards the future is not a one-day affair. It happens in stages and over time. Today’s announcements do not answer every question or seek to solve every challenge we face. However, they do represent a significant step forward and I hope you will read about them in that spirit.”

While details remain vague, Thompson’s vision for what needs to happen is clear. With more and more people cutting the cable cord, Thompson realizes CNN needs to pivot away from a TV-heavy company. That doesn’t mean he is totally abandoning the TV network, but he knows digital is critical to CNN’s future success. Thompson wrote that the digital plan would help the network “regain a leadership position in the news experiences of the future.”

It’s all part of Thompson’s plan to — to use his words — “future-proof” CNN.

He wrote, “We want to build on’s reach with a new focus on engagement and frequency — how long our users spend with us and how often they return — by improving the quality of the product experience and giving users powerful reasons to come back to us more often.”

He added, “We plan to take the journalistic firepower, user-experience and commercial potential of CNN Digital to the next level with strategic commitment, significant fresh investment, an injection of specialist expertise and plenty of creativity and experimentation. We will develop new digital products with a special focus on digital experiences worth paying for.”

That digital product will still rely on CNN’s strengths, which are video and reporting. Thompson wrote, “More than anything the CNN brand stands for news brought to you in moving pictures and sound with an onscreen anchor or correspondent acting as a trusted guide. In the future our digital products need to do a far better job of reflecting CNN’s massive strength in video and anchoring/reporting talent. Video will be at the heart of our future and a re-imagined video experience on every platform — from pure digital to streaming, FAST channels and more — it is essential for CNN’s future.”

CNN will also lean into artificial intelligence. Thompson wrote CNN will make a “strategic push” into AI to “determine how best to safely harness this emerging new technology to serve our audiences and deliver our journalistic goals more effectively and responsively.”

In his piece for CNN, Darcy wrote, “His transformative measures will also include a dramatic overhaul of CNN’s newsroom, which has been largely split into three divisions: US television, international television and digital. Thompson said the structural changes he is implementing will unify the three branches under one roof. CNN will also further embrace a ‘follow the sun’ model, in which news stories are overseen at any given time by the company’s bureaus across the world. As part of that effort, Thompson said CNN’s Hong Kong bureau will see an ‘expanded role’ and that the organization would ‘make greater use’ of its bureaus in London and Los Angeles.”

As I mentioned, Thompson is not giving up on the TV product. He praised the work being done in prime time, and said he wants executives to “explore how to build on that, increase audience competitiveness and also keep a close eye on production costs.”

There’s much more to Thompson’s memo. The Hollywood Reporter has the full version here.

So we shall see.

Variety’s Brian Steinberg wrote, “The memo, like similar ones the news leader has issued in the recent past, was broad and, in some cases, vague. But it reveals his continued efforts to push CNN, a mainstay of traditional television into a new age even as news junkies increasingly turn to non-traditional video sources for both quick-hit information and in-depth reportage. The maneuver is crucial. Unlike many of its rivals, CNN has yet to develop a sustainable digital-video product. And while it experiments, competitors NBC News, CBS News, ABC News and Fox News have launched content offerings that can be found everywhere from Amazon’s Fire portal to YouTube.”

An awkward follow-up question

Last week, ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos interviewed President Joe Biden in Biden’s first TV interview since his disastrous debate. Biden’s performance in that interview was a bit better than his debate, but it fell far short of reassuring those who think Biden has lost a step or two.

But the aftershocks of that interview reverberated into this week and it turned out to be embarrassing for Biden and awkward for Stephanopoulos.

TMZ posted video of Stephanopoulos on Tuesday walking down the street in New York City, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, and headphones. The apparent stranger who shot what appeared to be a phone video asked Stephanopoulos, “Do you think Biden should step down? You’ve talked to him more than anybody else has lately.”

Stephanopoulos, who likely didn’t know he was being videotaped, said, “I don’t think he can serve four more years.”

Stephanopoulos’ comments immediately went viral. The New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum wrote, “News anchors and reporters typically avoid voicing their opinions about the topics and people they cover.”

Stephanopoulos put out a statement to several news outlets, saying, “Earlier today, I responded to a question from a passerby. I shouldn’t have.”

As CNN’s Oliver Darcy pointed out, “Notably, Stephanopoulos did not withdraw the viewpoint he articulated, but simply said he shouldn’t have expressed it.”

It also should be noted that Stephanopoulos likely spent several moments with Biden before and after the interview that viewers didn’t see. As Grynbaum wrote, “Mr. Stephanopoulos is one of very few people outside of Mr. Biden’s immediate inner circle who has spent extended time with the president since the debate.”

ABC News put out a statement, saying, “George expressed his own point of view and not the position of ABC News.”

Next up

(Courtesy: NBC News)

Biden will continue his interview tour, trying to convince detractors that he has the strength and capabilities to beat Trump and serve another term. Next up will be a sitdown with NBC “Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt.

Holt will interview Biden next Monday in Austin, Texas. The full interview will air in its entirety on NBC at 9 p.m. Eastern and will stream on NBC News NOW. Portions of the interview will air earlier in the day on the “NBC Nightly News” at 6:30 p.m. Eastern.

Acting the part

Actor, director and producer George Clooney, left, shaking hands with President Joe Biden at the Kennedy Center honorees reception at the White House in 2022. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Actor, producer and director George Clooney wrote a blunt op-ed for The New York Times, urging Biden to drop out of the race.

OK, before we go any further, you might be asking, “Why should anyone care what some Hollywood celebrity has to say?”

Well, there are a few things to consider. For starters, Clooney has always been politically engaged and active. He also greatly respects Biden, as he pointed out in his op-ed, and is close friends with Barack Obama. (Some even wondered if Clooney ran the op-ed past Obama first.)

But here’s the part that really puts some substance behind Clooney’s opinion. It’s this passage right here:

“I love Joe Biden. As a senator. As a vice president and as president. I consider him a friend, and I believe in him. Believe in his character. Believe in his morals. In the last four years, he’s won many of the battles he’s faced. But the one battle he cannot win is the fight against time. None of us can. It’s devastating to say it, but the Joe Biden I was with three weeks ago at the fund-raiser was not the Joe ‘big F-ing deal’ Biden of 2010. He wasn’t even the Joe Biden of 2020. He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate.”

The fact that Clooney has been around Biden over the years, and as recently as three weeks ago, and believes Biden is not sharp enough to continue on assuredly carries weight.

As does this passage:

“This is about age. Nothing more. But also nothing that can be reversed. We are not going to win in November with this president. On top of that, we won’t win the House, and we’re going to lose the Senate. This isn’t only my opinion; this is the opinion of every senator and congress member and governor that I’ve spoken with in private. Every single one, irrespective of what he or she is saying publicly.”

As for what might happen if Biden drops out, Clooney admits it could be potentially “messy,” but that “Democracy is messy.” And, Clooney believes, a new candidate taking on Donald Trump might galvanize some Democrats and reenergize those who might have checked out with apathy.

But, again, this is more about Clooney’s personal observations of Biden.

Clooney finished by writing, “Joe Biden is a hero; he saved democracy in 2020. We need him to do it again in 2024.”

Big resignation

Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews abruptly announced Wednesday that she is stepping down as president of CBS News, a role she has held since last August.

The move might have been abrupt, but it was not a total surprise. It comes just days after CBS’s parent company, Paramount, agreed to merge with the production company Skydance Media.

Ciprian-Matthews wrote in a memo to staff, “Some may be asking why I’m announcing this now. We all know our industry and company are going through a transformation and a number of short- and long-term decisions need to be made. I do not want to be disingenuous with any of you about who should drive these decisions. I’ve always leaned into my integrity and my values and I felt it was important to be transparent at this juncture about my plans.”

Ciprian-Matthews isn’t leaving entirely. Wendy McMahon, chief executive of CBS News and Stations, put out another memo saying Ciprian-Matthews will stick around as a senior adviser through the November election.

No word yet on a plan to replace Ciprian-Matthews.

Done deal?

The Athletic’s Andrew Marchand reports that the NBA has finalized deals for its new TV contracts and, as expected, the rights will be to ABC/ESPN, NBC and Amazon Prime. The new deals are reportedly worth $76 billion over 11 years, and will start with the 2025-26 season.

The NBA Finals will remain with ABC/ESPN. Amazon Prime is a new partner for NBA and NBC gets back into broadcasting the NBA for the first time since 2002. All that’s left, Marchand said, is for the NBA’s board of governors to approve the deals and then send them to TNT.

Wait, send them to another network?

Yep. TNT has been carrying the NBA since 1989 and is home to the gold standard of sports studio shows, “Inside the NBA.” The network’s current contract with the NBA stipulates that it can match any other network offers, but it’s unclear if it can or will.

Marchand reports, “The CEO of TNT Sports’ parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery’s David Zaslav, has publicly stated he may attempt to use language in the current contract to remain involved with the NBA. If Zaslav goes through with that, he is expected to target Amazon’s package.”

The NBA hopes to announce the deals before the Olympics, which begin July 26.

Marchand reports that NBC is expected to air games on Sunday nights after football season and the most-watched show on TV — “Sunday Night Football” — comes to an end. NBC also will air games on Peacock. Amazon, which has a Thursday night NFL package, will take a page from NBC’s book and air NBA games on Thursday nights after football season. It also will have Friday and Saturday packages.

Marchand wrote, “ESPN will slightly cut down on the amount of regular-season games, going from around 100 now to the range of 80. During the NFL season, it will have its games on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, with its Saturday night game being its special ABC window. Later in the year, after the NFL, ESPN will have Friday night action, as well.”

So now we sit back and see what happens with TNT.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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