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Executive ranks at CNN are shaken up

Duties are reduced for its longtime news chief and its general manager resigns as the network tries to keep up with Fox News.

September 16, 2003|Elizabeth Jensen | Times Staff Writer

CNN shook up its executive ranks and unveiled a new management structure Monday, in another round of changes over the past several years as it tries to compete with dominant Fox News Channel.

The changes include a significant reduction in operating duties for one of CNN's longest tenured, chief news executive Eason Jordan, as well as the departure of CNN/U.S. General Manager Teya Ryan. She had gained internal power in recent years as AOL Time Warner executives tried to bring more glitz to CNN's programming in the face of Fox's gains.

Ryan's resignation had been widely expected, but her replacement was an unusual choice: Princell Hair, a Viacom executive and former KCBS news director. Currently the vice president of news for Viacom Television's 39-station group, his extensive resume has been entirely overseeing local news, with no cable or network experience.

Hair said in a conference call with reporters that both local and cable news are a "dogfight every day," so he expects his experience to be applicable.

CNN News Group President Jim Walton, in the job just nine months, said Monday that the network's problem remains getting viewers to watch for longer periods of time, rather than dip in and out as news warrants. CNN has more individual viewers who sample it than Fox does, but Fox viewers stick around for longer, so its average-day ratings are much higher. This season, with its ratings soaring, Fox has begun to more significantly eat away at CNN's dominance of the cable news ad market.

For the year, through Aug. 31, CNN's average total day audience of 761,000 viewers is up 46% from the previous year, but Fox News Channel is drawing an average 1.15 million viewers, up 82%, according to Nielsen Media Research figures.

Under the new structure and strategy, Jordan's previous domain, news gathering, which had operated independently from the company's programming, will now be integrated directly into CNN's U.S. and international divisions. That means correspondents can tailor their reports more directly for specific CNN shows, instead of just gathering the news generically. CNN has already been overhauling its prime time lineup, adding new programs hosted by Paula Zahn and Anderson Cooper in recent weeks.

"Producers will have more direct access to correspondents in the field," Walton said. "News gathering is what separates CNN from every other news organization in the world." He insisted that the change to emphasize CNN's programs won't mean a reduction in the network's commitment to covering breaking news

Walton took over as CNN News Group president at the beginning of the year. Promising to return CNN to its hard news roots, soon after arriving at CNN Walton canceled Connie Chung's evening talk show and the studio audience program "TalkBack Live."

He said Ryan resigned after her job was redefined to include more management functions. Jordan, he said, will remain vital to CNN as its "conscience" as well as overseeing global relationships. As for Hair, Walton singled out his consensus management style, and noted that local and cable news have similar needs. "He can get us where we need to go."

Hair said it was too soon to say what changes he will make.

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