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CNN’s chief outlines changes to network after layoffs, including end of live programming on HLN

<i>Brandon Bell/Getty Images/FILE</i><br/>A person walks past the CNN headquarters on November 17 in Atlanta
Getty Images
Brandon Bell/Getty Images/FILE
A person walks past the CNN headquarters on November 17 in Atlanta

By Oliver Darcy, CNN Business

CNN on Thursday executed sweeping layoffs and implemented a series of changes that impacted multiple divisions across the news organization, including ending live programming on HLN, the company’s chief executive, Chris Licht, said in a memo to employees.

“The changes we are making today are necessary and will make us stronger and better positioned to place big bets going forward without fear of failure,” Licht wrote in his memo.

The layoffs, which started Wednesday and were expected to impact hundreds of employees, largely had been completed by Thursday afternoon. A CNN spokesperson declined to say how many employees were let go, but the cuts targeted several areas of the company, including some on-air talent and members of management.

The series of changes, which came after Licht conducted a months-long review of CNN’s business after taking over in May as the network’s head, notably included the ending of live programming on HLN, CNN’s longtime sister channel. Licht said that, starting December 6, CNN “will no longer produce live programming for HLN.”

HLN will instead simulcast “CNN This Morning” and, Licht said, HLN’s crime programming will move under the purview of Kathleen Finch, a programming executive at Warner Bros. Discovery, CNN’s parent company.

“I want to take a moment to thank Robin Meade — she is not only an exceptionally popular anchor, but also one of the longest-running morning hosts in history,” Licht wrote in his memo. “I know the HLN audience will miss her and the other HLN talent.”

Licht said that the network was “also shifting our approach to paid contributors,” after cutting from its stable of commentators on Wednesday.

“In some areas, we will rely more on our CNN journalists,” Licht wrote. “Overall, we will engage contributors who are subject-matter experts that expand and diversify the viewpoints we bring our audience.”

Licht said that other changes included CNN International “reorganizing some of its teams and bureaus.” And he said, effective immediately, CNN International’s 5 pm ET show “will be replaced by a simulcast of CNN US for that half hour.”

CNN en Español, Licht said, will move to diversify its audience beyond news. Licht said CNN will still produce news for the channel, but will “look to develop a far more robust digital platform for CNNE with the aim of launching it in 2024.”

Licht also announced several other divisions were undergoing restructuring, including U.S. newsgathering, operations, research, creative marketing, and programming.

‘Gut punch’

When the layoffs commenced on Wednesday, Licht described the process as one that would be a “gut punch” to the network, telling employees in a memo that “it is incredibly hard to say goodbye to any one member of the CNN team, much less many.”

Employees at the company had been anxiously bracing for the layoffs since Licht informed them last month that “unsettling” changes lie ahead.

The layoffs come as media companies are being battered by brutal economic headwinds that have taken a bat to the advertising sector. Licht noted in October, when he signaled large cuts were coming, that there is “widespread concern over the global economic outlook” and that CNN “must factor that risk into [its] long-term planning.”

Other media organizations have also cut costs as they work to best position themselves for the stormy economic climate. Disney said last week the company needed to restructure, and AMC Networks announced Tuesday that it would cut 20% of its staff. Social media companies such as Meta, which also rely on advertising revenue, have also executed layoffs in recent months.

CNN, which still posts profits in the hundreds of millions of dollars, was spared from the cuts that wreaked havoc on the industry during the pandemic. Prior to this year, the last major cuts to occur at the organization were in 2018 when less than 50 people lost their jobs as the company restructured its digital business.

The cuts to the organization also come after CNN’s former parent company, WarnerMedia, merged earlier this year with Discovery, creating a media juggernaut laced with billions of dollars in debt and a need to slash costs across the board. The merger had just been completed in April when the company announced it was shuttering streaming service CNN+ a month after it was launched.

David Zaslav, chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery, the company that was formed when WarnerMedia and Discovery became one, has promised investors that he will find more than $3 billion in savings in the combined organization.

After Licht took over as head of CNN, he conducted a months-long review of the business. That review led to him identifying changes that should be made, Licht said in October. Some of those changes have already been implemented, as CNN has made smaller cuts to parts of its business in the last several months.

“Our goal throughout the strategic review process has been to better align our people, processes and resources with our future priorities, strengthen our ability to deliver on CNN’s core journalistic mission and enable us to innovate in the years ahead,” Licht said in his Thursday memo. “At the highest level, the goal is to direct our resources to best serve and grow audiences for our core news programming and products.”

“To achieve these goals, we will be reducing open job positions, reimagining our workflows and aligning our staffing, investments and focus around three key strategic priorities: programming, newsgathering and digital,” Licht added. “All decisions are designed to strengthen the core of our business.”

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