Hair's Happy in Crosshairs at CNN

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Princell Hair knows he's in a hot seat, but says he's up to the challenge of leading Cable News Network, which to date has failed in its quest to unseat ratings leader Fox News Channel.

Hair, a 36-year-old broadcast news veteran from Viacom Inc., is the new blood brought in last week to replace Teya Ryan, who exited as CNN's general manager.

"There's pressure in this business no matter where you go," Hair said. "Certainly, the pressure when you get to this level is much greater. But I have trained my entire career for this, having worked in the local-news arena."

Viacom vet

As vice president of news for the Viacom Television Stations Group, Hair oversaw news coverage across the media giant's 39 TV stations. Before that he was news director at KCBS-TV in Los Angeles and WBAL-TV in Baltimore.

Ryan's is the latest in a series of CNN executive exits. In January, CNN News Group chairman Walter Isaacson left and was replaced by Jim Walton, now CNN News Group president.

As CNN executive vice president and general manager, Ryan was a rising star but had a tough tenure at the news channel. Unsuccessful efforts to jazz up the network, notably getting Connie Chung a primetime show — a program that was cancelled once Walton was in charge — paved the way for her departure.

Hair was a surprise choice, with no cable-news or broadcast-network credentials. But he has experience dealing with high-end talent and managing breaking-news coverage, producers, reporters and editors.

"Clearly the scale is very different, but certainly the skills I bring with me from my time in local newsrooms will serve me well at CNN," he said.

Johnathan Rodgers, now president of the start-up network TV One, was running the CBS station group and based in Chicago, 10 years ago when he first met Hair, then a producer for CBS's Chicago station, WBBM-TV.

"He was a bright young man who we all believed would go far in the business," Rodgers said. "He is principled. He is creative. And he is what a lot of other news managers aren't: He is a good manager of people."

One mandate is to get viewers to stay tuned in for longer periods of time. CNN has more different viewers — a bigger cumulative audience — than Fox News, but the Fox News audience watches for longer periods of time, increasing its rating.

"The goal for us is to get people to watch longer," Hair said. "Fox is a very good competitor, but there's clearly room for different kinds of news programming and different kinds of approaches to news. At CNN, our commitment is high standards of journalism and there's no reason why that will not continue."

Parsons' take

Time Warner Inc. chairman and CEO Richard Parsons echoed those remarks last week.

"CNN clearly is still the No. 1 and most trusted news brand in the world," Parsons said. "Without changing the focus or brand of the news — we're still going to be essentially about hard news as opposed to talk television — nevertheless, there are some things we can do to improve the production quality, the look and feel and relevance of the programming."

Hair's local-news past is already haunting him. Several years ago WMAQ-TV in Chicago hired Jerry Springer for its 10 p.m. newscast, sparking a controversy. Hair was news director then, but last week he said he didn't play any part in the decision to hire Springer.

Jordan impact

Eason Jordan, CNN's president of newsgathering and chief news executive, assumes a new role in the reorganization, as executive vice president and chief news executive. He had been overseeing CNN's global newsgathering operations, but now that function will essentially be decentralized, with Hair overseeing all programming and domestic bureaus.

"It makes a lot of sense to put newsgathering and programming together," Hair said. "The job for me is to make that all work."

R. Thomas Umstead contributed to this report.

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