Mark Thompson Gets the CNN Treatment

Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images
Dylan Byers
August 29, 2023

In the days ahead, and possibly as early as Wednesday—or maybe even just as soon as this story is published—David Zaslav will announce that he has hired former New York Times Company C.E.O. and BBC director general Mark Thompson to serve as the next chairman and C.E.O. of CNN, two sources familiar with the company’s plans tell me. Thompson, an accomplished veteran of both television and digital media with a reputation for restructuring legacy media assets and pursuing innovative growth strategies, will inherit a storied news network that has been beset in recent years by dramatic leadership shakeups, diminished ratings and revenue, and the broader decline of the linear television industry.

The decision comes less than 100 days after Zaz ousted his first hand-picked divisional chief executive, Chris Licht, following what was widely seen as a disastrous thirteen-month run that ended with record-low ratings, widespread staff aversion to his leadership, and the epitaph of an Atlantic article. Since Licht’s departure, in early June, CNN has been helmed by a ​​quadrumvirate interim leadership group that has largely succeeded in stabilizing the anxieties of the rank-and-file and the well-paid anchor class, alike. The interim leadership team will continue overseeing their respective areas, but will now report to Thompson, who will have oversight over the entire CNN operation.

Thompson, a former public market company C.E.O., could not pose a starker contrast to Licht, a former cable news and late night executive producer. At the Times Co., in particular, Thompson deftly architected a plan that rescued the business from its darkest financial hour in generations. Thompson also proved adept at speaking both the lingua franca of the newsroom as well as the love language of Wall Street analysts—no small thing, to be sure. His various restructurings and reorgs repositioned the Times Co. as a product-first company that successfully built out a portfolio of lifestyle businesses that supported the newsgathering organization. He created the strategy that his successor Meredith Kopit Levien has navigated peerlessly. These days, the Times Company trades around the same price as during its dot-com boom halcyon days.