For the previous seven years, Chris Licht’s favourite comedian has been Stephen Colbert. As the brand new chairman of CNN, Licht’s focus has immediately shifted to the good ex-comic from Ukraine named Volodymyr Zelensky, whose heroics are the story of the hour.
“Give CNN one nice information story and all my community’s issues will immediately disappear,” Ted Turner, CNN’s founder, as soon as assured me.
The last word information junkie, Turner, now 83 and fighting dementia, absolutely is mesmerized by the Ukraine drama, each on digital camera and off. The brutal Russian invasion has not solely pulled cable information out of its doldrums but in addition put the highlight on the behind-the-scenes chaos enjoying out at CNN and its rivals. Managements are altering mid-stream and so are their underlying narratives.
The bravery of the cable information reporters and cameramen reminds us of their potential to alter historical past, whilst they report it. Additionally of the turmoil of their company mother and father.
In a administration shift distinctive in its clumsiness, Licht, Colbert’s government producer, will exchange CNN’s abrasive information oligarch Jeff Zucker, and, maybe inevitably, additionally a few of his proficient, if geriatric, anchors.
However that received’t occur till Could, when Licht will take his job and likewise get a brand new boss in David Zaslav, who turns into CEO of Warner Bros Discovery. Licht has not labored in information for greater than six years, however he began in native information. Zaslav, to make sure, has by no means run both a Hollywood studio or a information channel — however created the Discovery empire and helped invent CNBC and even MSNBC in his youthful years.
Due to the legal guidelines governing acquisitions, neither has as but had the chance to review the numbers or enterprise plans of CNN, which itself has been investing closely in its newly deliberate CNN+ streaming service. This enterprise, which has entailed the hiring of Chris Wallace from Fox Information and Audie Cornish from NPR, will once more focus debate on the important thing query going through all of the information channels: Ought to cable information be within the enterprise of goal information protection or ought to it’s a champion of both the appropriate or left?
No community embodies this battle extra distinctly than Fox Information, which has used Ukraine to brandish a significant advert marketing campaign stressing the community’s attain and its objectivity. Even pro-Trump polemicists like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity have re-attuned their rhetoric for wartime.
MSNBC, too, has tried to give attention to conflict protection whereas bringing its shrill progressive warrior, Rachel Maddow, again from hiatus. She, in flip, re-summoned Hillary Clinton for back-to-the-future commentary. CNN squats in third place within the scores race whereas MSNBC is nicely behind Fox Information.
The extraordinary moment-by-moment drama of the conflict, and of Zelensky’s management, has nonetheless afforded the information channels one final shot at capturing the information narrative. “None of us actually know the place individuals get their information, particularly younger people who find themselves steeped In TikTok,” concedes the information chief of a significant community. “Ukraine miraculously is now delivering the eyeballs.”
It was in 1970 when the flamable Turner began buying first radio, then TV stations and have become persuaded that information was a very good gamble. An important talker however a disinterested listener, Turner’s instincts have been liberal, his logic disorderly. His staff have been directly loyal, but exasperated.
Underneath its new management, can CNN re-capture the journey and innovation of the Turner period? Its new boss, Licht, has demonstrated his savvy for expertise relations, reinventing CBS This Morning beneath Charlie Rose and Gayle King, then reimagining Colbert’s Late Present. Earlier than that he orchestrated Joe Scarborough’s morning information circus.
However Licht has by no means managed an enterprise with hundreds of staff. Or with a company embroiled in mind-boggling scandals such because the firing of Chris Cuomo, or of a information icon like Zucker.
As Ted Turner would remind us, CNN wanted a conflict to re-focus on reporting the information. It subsequent wants a steadying hand and a viewpoint.