UPDATED: Some of the major cutbacks at CNN are occurring at HLN, which will cease live programming and will partner with Investigation Discovery to produce its true-crime slate.
A simulcast of CNN This Morning will take the place of HLN Morning Express with Robin Meade, according to a source with knowledge of the plans. Meade is leaving the network along with staffers who were part of the layoffs, and Weekend Express also will be dropped from the schedule.
CNN This Morning is the new title of CNN’s retooled morning show, a key priority of CNN Worldwide’s chairman and CEO Chris Licht. It launched last month with Kaitlan Collins, Poppy Harlow and Don Lemon as co-anchors.
The HLN changes were first reported in Variety and Puck, which also reported on some of the staffers who were given notice.
Licht announced to staffers on Wednesday that layoffs would commence this week.
Among the staffers let go was political analyst Chris Cillizza, according to a source familiar with the cuts. He has authored The Point newsletter and podcast and, before that, the politics blog The Fix for The Washington Post. CNN declined comment and Cillizza did not return a request for comment.
Also departing is Martin Savidge, anchor and correspondent who has been based in Atlanta. In an email to Deadline, he said, “My time at CNN stretches from the days of Ted [Turner] to today. And if I could I’d stay a lot longer but that’s not to be. My love for this place is not just about Ted’s original idea but for the thousands here who like me believe in his dream. Most of all I am grateful for the so many who have shared their stories and the places I have been able to see in the pursuit of news whether it be heart breaking or uplifting. This ride may be ending but not the adventure.”
PREVIOUSLY, Wednesday: CNN started to inform staffers of layoffs, as its chairman and CEO Chris Licht wrote that notices will go out on Wednesday and Thursday.
“Today we will notify a limited number of individuals, largely some of our paid contributors, as part of a recalibrated reporting strategy,” Licht wrote in a memo, shared on Twitter by CNN’s Oliver Darcy. “Tomorrow we will notify impacted employees, and tomorrow afternoon I will follow up with more details of these changes.”
Licht had announced earlier this fall that the network would cut positions. He wrote that he “recently described this process as a gut punch, because I know that is how it feels for all of us.”
“It will be a difficult time for everyone,” Licht wrote in the memo. “If your job has been impacted, you will learn through an in-person meeting or via Zoom, depending on your location.” He added that the affected employees would receive information about severance and their last day. Those who were eligible for 2022 bonuses would still receive them based on performance.
“I know these changes affect both our departing colleagues and those who remain, and we have resources designed to support you,” Licht wrote.
A spokeswoman declined to share additional details. CNN has about 4,000 employees worldwide. A couple hundred employees are expected to be affected, according to a source. The cuts are not expected to impact major on-air staffers, as well as photo journalists and video news editors, but the layoffs are said to include some recognizable names.
In October, after parent Warner Bros. Discovery said that it expected to incur about $1.1 billion in organization restructuring costs, Licht warned of staff reductions, along with cuts to budgets and projects. The network later announced that it was scaling back its CNN Original Series and CNN Films units, moving longform production in house. The network also cut staffers in its audio division.
On a recent podcast, Kara Swisher asked Licht about why he told staffers in June that there were “no layoffs per se” but that changed months later.
“Remember, the layoffs per se … is because we weren’t part of the synergies of the combined companies,” he said. “We still aren’t. If I am being told that we are not part of the synergies of the combined companies, then we were not part of the layoffs that were happening this summer.”
Licht said that he wanted to expand the “global dominance of CNN,” by “engaging people who are already coming to us more, particularly on digital, and then creating a nimble news organization that can weather any storm and not only survive but thrive and using that currency to attract new audiences.”
He put an emphasis on creating a multimedia home on digital, as CNN has the number one news website in the world. “If we can get them to stay and engage and become vital in their life, and become more of a full service news and information leader, there is tremendous upside,” he told Swisher. Licht had already announced that the network was “investing significantly” in digital, and that it would try to minimize the impact on their core newsgathering operation.
The layoffs cap a tumultuous year for CNN. Its longtime president Jeff Zucker abruptly departed in February over his failure to disclose a relationship with an associate. The much hyped launch of CNN+, its subscription streaming service, turned out to be a dud, and the venture was shut down less than a month later. After Warner Bros. Discovery completed its deal to take over the Warner Media assets from AT&T, Licht became the head of CNN and embarked on a review of the network. More recently, Michael Bass, the network’s top programming executive, announced his exit.
CNN is not alone in slashing jobs, as the media business grapples with an advertising slowdown and fears of a recession, along with the shift in consumer habits away from pricey cable packages toward streaming options. Warner Bros. Discovery faces the challenge of almost $50 billion in debt, while companies including AMC Networks and Paramount Global have cut jobs.
The ratings for the network also are off significantly from the heights of the 2020 presidential election. Licht has made a priority of retooling its morning show, with the debut of CNN This Morning earlier this month featuring co-anchors Poppy Harlow, Don Lemon and Kaitlan Collins. He brought on board Ryan Kadro last summer as senior VP of content strategy and development, with aims of revitalizing CNN in the morning and in primetime. The latter time period has a significant hole, with a rotating series of hosts filling the 9 PM ET slot since Chris Cuomo was fired last December.
More to come.