Cable News Network’s new president, CBS News veteran Jonathan Klein, said his priority will be focusing on making the channel’s primetime programming more “provocative” and engaging to viewers.
“The mission is to make sure that the range of stories we’re covering and the approach we take to covering them, especially in primetime, resonates with that audience and answers the questions that are most heavily on their minds about the world around them,” Klein said Monday during a conference call with reporters.
In the latest in a string of executive changes at CNN, Klein was appointed president of CNN/U.S, replacing the local-news veteran who has essentially been doing that job for just over one year.
At CNN, Klein will oversee the domestic network, creating programming and shaping its editorial tone and direction.
“Interesting, arresting, provocative, engaging -- those are all words that I hope can be associated with CNN in the months and the years ahead,” Klein said. “There’s a lot of ways to skin a story, and we’re going to use all of them.”
Klein will be based in New York and report to Jim Walton, president of the CNN News Group.
Klein credited CNN with excelling at newsgathering, but he said, “What I’d like to address is how we tell stories and how we take all of that material we gather and turn it into a compelling product that engages the audience in primetime.”
Princell Hair, who had served as executive vice president and general manager of CNN since September 2003, will remain at the network but assume a new post, as senior VP of program and talent development. He will work with the entire CNN News Group portfolio of TV networks and businesses.
Ken Jautz, GM of soon-to-be-defunct CNNfn, will be given broader duties as executive VP for the CNN News Group. In addition to oversight of CNN Headline News, Jautz will be responsible for operations and administration, media operations and program and talent development for the News Group.
Walton told reporters CNN has had a record year, with the whole news group posting a 35% year-to-year gain in profits. He added that the viewership gains currently being posted by the now-top-rated all-news network, Fox News Channel, were coming at the expense of the broadcasters, and not CNN. But Walton added that he felt that CNN needed a boost on several fronts.
“When we looked at CNN/U.S. and what we needed to do going forward to position ourselves to continue to grow, we felt that we needed a stronger, more urgent push to the editorial direction and the strategic direction,” Walton said.
Although Klein joined CNN from The FeedRoom Inc, where he oversaw the world’s largest broadband-news network, he spent most of his career at CBS.
From 1996-98, he was executive VP of CBS News, where his oversight included 60 Minutes and other CBS newsmagazines. Klein also brought CNN’s Christiane Amanpour to 60 Minutes as a contributor, redesigned 48 Hours and launched Coast to Coast and Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel.
“I’m just thrilled to have arrived at a place that’s got essentially unmatched, unfair advantages,” Klein said. “We’ve just got such an extensive newsgathering capability. We’ve got first dibs on any story that’s moving anywhere in the world. We’ve got amazing people who are committed to getting the story right and getting it first. Now we’re going to work together to tell those stories in a way that really connects the American viewing audience.”
Klein began his career at CBS as a news writer and editor on CBS Nightwatch and went on to produce CBS Morning News, CBS Weekend News, 48 Hours and the network’s live coverage of the Gulf War.
Hair had joined CNN from Viacom Inc., where he was VP of news for its TV stations. He replaced then-GM Teya Ryan.
Walton said CNN is not in merger talks with any of the broadcast networks.
Klein isn’t worried about the high executive-turnover rate at CNN and said he doesn’t have a deadline to boost ratings.
“There’s no gun to the head,” he said. “We all know how glacially ratings tend to move -- Fox’s, too. You’ve got to just put the building blocks in place and then promote well and market well and make sure the audience understands what you’re doing, and deliver time and time again.”