CNN has cut more than 40 senior journalists from its newsgathering operation – including a producer who was two weeks away from giving birth to twins – as part of a reorganisation of the business under its president Jeff Zucker.
The cutting of production and editorial staff at the Time Warner-owned group comes as Mr Zucker tries to re-establish CNN as the dominant force in 24-hour cable news, a crown it lost several years ago to Fox News Channel.
The job losses at CNN and HLN, its sister network, were concentrated in Washington, Atlanta and Los Angeles at the end of 2013. CNN declined to comment on the cutting of the pregnant news producer, who worked for the company for more than a decade, saying it could not comment on individual employees.
The cuts coincide with changes to the network’s programming. Mr Zucker has hired presenters and diversified CNN’s output, adding documentary and reality series to its traditional live news coverage.
A CNN spokesperson said it would add about 100 people to its headcount this year, adding that the network was investing in journalism. “We’re expanding the definition of news,” she said. “We’re not abandoning news by any stretch of the imagination . . . there will be more people working at CNN today than last year.”
However, Mr Zucker’s moves have failed to lift CNN’s audiences in prime time, the crucial evening period when television networks generate most of their advertising revenue. The network continues to lag behind Fox News and recently hit a 20-year low in prime time ratings.
Nielsen revealed that CNN’s ratings for the key 25- to 54-year-old demographic fell last week to their lowest level since May 2012, with CNN averaging 78,000 viewers for the whole day and 98,000 in prime time.
The task of reviving CNN has dogged Jeff Bewkes since he became Time Warner’s chief executive six years ago: at the end of 2012 he appointed Mr Zucker, the former chief executive of NBCUniversal, to return it to glory.
Time Warner does not break out CNN’s performance in its earnings, but in late 2012 Mr Bewkes told the UBS media conference the network would generate $600m of earnings that year.
At Time Warner’s most recent quarterly earnings, John Martin, CEO of Turner Broadcasting, Time Warner’s television unit, told an investor call that CNN’s profits had fallen. “CNN's operating income this year is down and that’s because of proactive decisions that have been made by Jeff Zucker and the new team there to try to invest in the programming,” he said.
Mr Bewkes said last month that CNN and HLN would “add a little more variation, not just in traditional political news” in an effort to generate returns.
CNN has added series from the likes of Anthony Bourdain, the celebrity chef, and Morgan Spurlock, an acclaimed documentary maker, and this week it acquired a documentary about the discovery of a fossilised Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. It will soon air Chicagoland, a reality series about Chicago politics.
But departing staff have expressed concern. “It makes you wonder what direction CNN is going,” said Kim Segal, a supervising producer who left CNN recently after a long career when the network asked her to choose between a cut in pay and a severance package.
Ms Segal supervised much of CNN’s coverage of the Florida trial of George Zimmerman, a ratings winner for the network, as well as Barack Obama’s second presidential inauguration. “For 24 years there was nowhere else I wanted to be because of the 24-hour platform we had at CNN,” she said. “I would hate for other programming to get in front of that.”
In Atlanta, about 25 people at HLN were laid off in November, including the pregnant producer, according to people familiar with the matter. Six journalists, five of them women, were laid off in Los Angeles, where CNN’s entertainment unit is based.
Some of the people laid off in other bureaux were close to retirement and had been with the news network since it launched 30 years ago, people familiar with the situation said.