Looking to add some solid journalism credentials to a network that's been battered in recent months, AOL Time Warner Inc. executives named veteran Time
editor Walter Isaacson chairman and CEO of Cable News Network last week.
Isaacson, whose job announcement came less than two weeks after former CNN CEO Tom Johnson resigned, joins a network in the midst of an overhaul.
In hopes of regaining its ratings edge over Fox News Channel in the all-news battle, the network has revised its lineup over the last several months. It's added several personality-driven newscasts, such as Jeff Greenfield at Large, and hired former NYPD Blue
actress Andrea Thompson as one of the anchors for the CNN Headline News desk.
Isaacson said that while he plans to keep the personality-driven approach, CNN's hard-news emphasis would remain. "I'm here to bring it back to its core mission, which is to report hard, report honestly, break stories and yeah — sometimes that means interesting personalities, whether it's Christiane Amanpour or Wolf Blitzer," he said.
While Isaacson has 23 years of experience at Time Inc. — most recently as editorial director — the former Rhodes Scholar has no television experience, other than his frequent appearances on talking-head programs like Meet The Press.
Isaacson said he would leave decisions that involve running the TV network up to other executives, including CNN News Group chief news executive Eason Jordan, CNN president and chief operating officer Phil Kent and TBS Inc. CEO Jamie Kellner.
"They don't need more people to tell them how to do the TV part," Isaacson said. "I think my job is to help build a team, help us get focused on what our mission is, and remind people that at the core of that mission is journalism."
Isaacson's new post gives him oversight of all CNN networks, including CNN International, CNNfn, CNN/SI and CNN en Español.
Near-term changes at CNN include a revamped Headline News, which will debut next month, Isaacson said. The network, which runs on a 30-minute wheel, will coordinate its schedule with other CNN domestic networks "so you can go back and forth, depending on whether you want the latest headlines or you want something in depth," Isaacson said.
This fall, CNN will launch an evening newscast hosted by former ABC News anchor Aaron Brown, though Isaacson said the network hasn't settled on a time slot for the program.
Although Isaacson said that CNN numbers have improved recently, the network's second-quarter ratings were flat with last year. It posted a 0.6 Nielsen Media Research primetime rating, falling short of FNC's 0.7 rating.
One would expect that maintaining morale would be a challenge at CNN, following the layoffs of 400 employees in January. But Isaacson said the mood has been upbeat.