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Layoffs expected at CNN after exec completes business review

The logo of CNN Worldwide appears at the cable network's headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia on January 26, 2013.
The logo of CNN Worldwide appears at the cable network’s headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia on January 26, 2013. (Photo by Hermann Luyken via Wikimedia Commons, Graphic by The Desk)

CNN President Christopher Licht has completed a six-month strategic review of the cable network’s business and is expected to detail the findings of his probe soon, according to a report.

On Wednesday, financial news outlet CNBC said the review was ordered by Licht’s managers at Warner Bros Discovery (WBD), which acquired CNN as part of a larger merger with AT&T’s WarnerMedia earlier this year.

Moments after CNBC’s story was published, Licht distributed an internal memo to CNN staffers confirming the review of the network’s business had wrapped, and warning job losses would be coming in the future.

No specific timeline has been set for the layoff notices, and it was not clear how many workers were expected to receive pink slips. Licht said the downsizing was necessary so CNN could weather the effects of economic turbulence over the long-term.

“All this together will mean noticeable change to this organization,” Licht wrote in his memo on Wednesday. “That, by definition, is unsettling. These changes will not be easy because they will affect people, budgets, and projects.”

Some projects have already been shuttered since the merger, including CNN Plus, the standalone streaming service that existed for less than a month before Discovery executives shut it down. The closure of CNN Plus resulted in numerous job losses, despite an assertion from WBD executives that workers would be offered positions in other parts of the business.

Under Licht, CNN has also laid off or fired several on-air reporters and other talent, including media watchdog Brian Stelter, whose program “Reliable Sources” was also canceled.

Other changes at CNN have been more subtle, part of a broader realignment of the network’s broadcast strategy away from polarizing political fare and overhyped breaking news. One of the Licht’s first edicts was to order CNN’s producers and editors to reduce the use of “Breaking News” in graphics and other parts of the network’s presentation.

Out of 40,000 employees who work for WBD, around 10 percent are found at CNN. One in four workers at CNN participate on an editorial team, either as a reporter, director, producer, editor, photographer or other type of journalist.

Virtually no one at CNN feels their job is safe in a world where Discovery executives and shareholders appear to be calling the shots. Shortly after the merger was announced last year, Liberty Media chairman John Malone told CNBC he wanted CNN to return to its facts-first roots — something that Licht appears to be doing — without the rhetoric that made many of their shows popular during periods of political turbulence. (Liberty Media is a major shareholder of WBD.)

According to CNBC, Malone’s comments made many CNN workers uneasy, because they felt the media mogul didn’t view them as real journalists. Adding to that uncertainty is that few within CNN know the particular criteria Licht will use to determine whose job is safe and who needs to go as the news network is re-tooled to fit his mold.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).