CNN Chief Calls it Quits

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

NEW YORK (AP) - CNN chief Jim Walton said Friday he is quitting,
saying the company needs new leadership at a time its flagship U.S.
network is suffering through some of its poorest ratings ever.

Walton built the company into a profitable international news
organization in his 10 years as president of CNN Worldwide, and
said it is on track for record profits this year. But the U.S.
network is the most visible part of the business and is now
entrenched in third place behind rivals Fox News Channel and MSNBC in prime time.

He announced the decision in an email to staff members on
Friday. He said he'll continue working until the end of the year
during the company's search for a successor.

Walton said he's been talking to his boss, Turner Broadcasting
Chairman Phil Kent, about leaving since the first few months of the
year. CNN is owned by Time Warner.

"There's always pressure," he said. "I've been doing this a
long time and CNN has had its ups and downs, like all companies
have had ups and downs. I feel really strongly about a number of
parts of this company. We're having a really strong year
internationally and in mobile. It's clear there's a lot of
spotlight on CNN's U.S. performance and it's reasonable that there
is that spotlight."

CNN's U.S. network had its worst-ever ratings for a second
quarter, down 40 percent for some of its prime-time shows. The
decline was particularly notable in May, when CNN faced tough
competition from broadcast networks during a slow news period and
its ratings were compared to a year earlier, in the aftermath of
the Osama bin Laden killing.

It hasn't improved appreciably since then, with veteran newsman
Wolf Blitzer often losing in the ratings to broadcast novice Al
Sharpton on MSNBC. Piers Morgan's show has been a bright spot this

The network was also embarrassed by initially reporting incorrectly the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on President Obama's health care law, then taking longer to correct itself than Fox, which made a similar error.

CNN's ratings traditionally fluctuate based on the intensity of
the news. Fox and MSNBC have insulated themselves from that problem somewhat through its partisan prime-time hosts. Walton has resisted this approach, believing CNN's strength lies in being a nonpartisan news source and the company's reputation would be damaged worldwide if the U.S. network changed.

Walton said he doesn't expect that to change after he leaves.

"We kind of know who we are and our corporate colleagues know
who we are and there has always been great support internally that
we're going to be a news organization," he said.

At CNN, "we want to be accurate above all else, we want to be
timely - first if possible - we want to actually go to where the
news is, not just subscribe to some agency's news feed and talk
about it. We want to report the news from multiple sides, all
sides, and without bias."

Walton, 54, began working at CNN in 1981 shortly after it
started. His first job involved ripping paper scripts off wire
machines and operating the TelePrompter for news anchors.

CNN has suffered from weak programming and fundamental changes in the way people get their information, said Frank Sesno, a former CNN Washington bureau chief and now a professor at George
Washington University. The company needs to make programming
compelling enough to draw viewers used to getting their news
elsewhere first online, he said.

CNN should put its attention toward other ways of delivering the
news, said analyst Brad Adgate of Horizon Media.

"I don't know what they can do to catch up with television,"
he said.

Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner chairman and CEO, said Walton took over
an underperforming company in 2003 and tripled earnings, delivering
an annual growth of 15 percent. Roughly half of the company's
earnings come through subscription fees from cable and satellite
companies, and they have been growing steadily worldwide.

"Jim has been instrumental in growing the business into the
financial powerhouse it has become, while establishing the brand as
the worldwide leader for television news," Bewkes said. "I
respect him personally and professionally and support the decision
he and Phil Kent have reached."

Kent said Walton has a track record of great judgment when it
matters most. He "challenged the organization to think bigger,
reach further, do better," he said.

"I think this company needs some new thinking," Walton said.
"I've been doing this job I'm in now for 10 years and I'm ready
for a change."

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