July 27, 2012 7:20 pm

CNN chief steps down amid US rating slide

The president of CNN Worldwide is stepping down at the end of the year amid turmoil over the direction of the cable news broadcaster in a fast-changing news landscape.

Jim Walton, who started at CNN one year after its 1980 launch, was named president of the company in May 2003 and was responsible for leading its stable of domestic and international news television networks and digital properties. On his watch, Time Warner’s CNN expanded to a multi-platform news outlet, broadcasting on television, radio, the web and mobile.

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But CNN’s domestic business recently has struggled. With competitors focused on polarising political commentary and viewers turning to the web for breaking news, the once pioneering cable news network is being challenged to reinvent its offerings. CNN ranks in third place among US cable news outlets, trailing US rivals Fox News and MSNBC. It recently registered its worst domestic primetime ratings in 20 years.

“CNN needs new thinking,” Mr Walton said in a note to staff. “That starts with a new leader who brings a different perspective, different experiences and a new plan.”

Keeping momentum at CNN is important to Time Warner’s business. Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner chief executive officer, told shareholders at the company’s annual meeting in May that CNN would generate more than $600m in earnings this year, which would be a record for the network, and that its profits would rise in years to come.

Mr Bewkes said in a statement on Friday that Mr Walton turned CNN’s business around during his tenure from an underperforming network with earnings in decline into a “financial powerhouse”.

“He and CNN have tripled earnings, doubled margin and delivered annual growth of 15 per cent,” he said.

Phil Kent, chief executive of Turner Broadcasting, CNN’s parent group within Time Warner, is leading the search for a replacement.

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