CNN’s News Chief Says Beating Fox Isn’t Job One
Byline: JON LAFAYETTE
If you can’t beat them ignore them. That’s the attitude of the top executives running CNN when it comes to overtaking Fox News Channel in the ratings race.
Jim Walton, who last week was named to replace Walter Isaacson as CEO of CNN News Group, said beating Fox News wasn’t a key part of his mission as the network gears up to cover a new war with Iraq.
“Not every ratings point is created equally,” Walton said. “If it were simply about getting higher ratings we might do some different things. The ratings would go right up, but what would that do to our audience base, and what would that do to our relationships with the advertisers and the cable operators?”
A 21-year veteran of CNN, Walton doesn’t plan to rock the boat too much. “Across the news group the direction of our different businesses are headed in the right way,” he said. “The plan for pushing ratings higher is simply to get the people who sample CNN to stay tuned in longer.”
That could be a good thing for CNN’s 40,000 employees, who’ve been buffeted by everything from layoffs to executive changes and falling stock prices at parent AOL Time Warner.
“He is one of them, and I think he will probably be able to get more out of this group of people than anyone else we could possibly have put into his job,” said Turner Broadcasting CEO Jamie Kellner, who appointed Walton to the post.
Though a CNN lifer, Walton isn’t stuck in his ways, said longtime colleague Eason Jordan, CNN’s president of newsgathering. “I spend more time with him than with anybody here. We talk about sports. We talk about making CNN a more fun place to work.”
Still on the agenda is the possible combination of CNN with ABC News. Kellner said no discussions with ABC parent Disney are planned at this point.
Kellner said he is neither for nor against the merger and that while Isaacson was in favor of it, it wasn’t an issue in his decision to take a post as president of the Aspen Institute, a policy think tank.
“He told me about the offer,” Kellner said. After years in print at Time Inc., it was clear “this [TV] is not the world he wanted to stay in.”
With Staci D. Kramer.
THE NEXT QUESTION:
*How will CNN and Fox News Channel respond when MSNBC makes changes in its programming strategy?
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