Next Tuesday, Chris Licht, the embattled chairman and C.E.O. of CNN, will face the toughest public challenge of his seven-month tenure when he sits down for a staff-wide town hall, moderated by anchor Alisyn Camerota. Licht will be questioned about the new round of layoffs that, I’m reliably told, will go into effect in early December, just before Christmas, and impact hundreds of employees. The leadership already knows who they’re going to cut.
When he first arrived at CNN, Licht demurred when discussing whether the network would be swept into Warner Bros. Discovery’s vast synergistic cost-cutting-to-service-the-$50-billion-debt-load imbroglio. He may have been dancing around talking points, but the current reality appears to many as a disappointing volte-face, and it has presumably presented Licht with an uncomfortable lesson in the challenges of C-suite management. Alas, the past six months have presented a significant learning curve for the former wunderkind producer. He was thrown into a historic division of a debt-laden company that had survived two horrific mergers and lost its beloved leader. Not even Jack Welch could have assumed the mantle of CNN without creating a few forest fires.
Next week, Licht will also be asked to explain the broad cost-cutting occurring across the network, which is reducing, among other things, CNN’s original films and series division to a shell of its former self. It will also result in a shrinking footprint at Hudson Yards, where CNN plans to eliminate certain floors and consolidate studio space. The daytime studio, the historic heart of the newsroom, has already been moved off the newsroom floor. (What you see behind the desk is now a liveshot of the newsroom). Finally, Licht will be tasked with reassuring staff that CNN can continue to be “the global leader in news,” despite a smaller staff, historically low viewership, and its first-ever ratings loss to MSNBC on an election night.