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CNN announces layoffs amid difficult year

Layoffs at CNN are underway.

Network CEO Chris Licht wrote to staff on Wednesday to inform employees the process of letting an unspecified number of staffers go had begun and that more information on who would be affected would be forthcoming.

“Today we will notify a limited number of individuals, largely some of our paid contributors, as part of a recalibrated reporting strategy,” Licht wrote to staff on Wednesday in a note obtained by The Hill. “Tomorrow, we will notify impacted employees, and tomorrow afternoon I will follow up with more details on these changes.”

Licht said impacted employees will learn more through an in-person meeting or via Zoom, depending on the employee’s location and receive information about notice period or any severance that would apply. All employees who are bonus eligible will still receive their 2022 bonuses, Licht said.

“I know these changes affect both our departing colleagues and those who remain, and we have resources designed to support you,” the network’s new top boss said.

Licht, who took over as head of the network this summer, initially said he had not planned to administer layoffs during his first year leading the massive global media company.

Then in October, Licht told employees to expect a number of staff changes and cost cutting measures, including layoffs, before the end of the year.

“This is an organization that has had gut punch after gut punch after gut punch,” Licht said during a town hall at the time. “And most of the organizations out there wouldn’t have survived.”

The belt tightening at CNN comes as almost all major media companies are bracing for the economic impact of rising inflation, decreasing ad revenue and concerns from investors about the broader economic outlook.

The New York Times reported earlier this year that people familiar with the company’s finances estimated CNN is on track to miss its 2022 profitability target of $1.1 billion by more than $100 million.

The cuts at CNN also come amid recent drops in ratings across cable news more generally but at CNN most acutely.

Licht was hired as part of a massive media merger between CNN’s parent company WarnerBros. and Discovery and has said he does not want his staffers “chasing ratings” but instead “chasing stories.”

One of Licht’s first moves after taking over at CNN was shuttering its highly promoted paid streaming service, CNN+, less than a month after launch, a decision that left a number of staffers at the network unsettled about the company’s future. 

Licht has also ushered out or moved around a number of high-profile front-facing talent that had during former network president Jeff Zucker’s tenure become known for intense criticism of former President Trump.

The new network boss revamped the channel’s morning news program earlier this fall and still has a major hole in prime time to fill at 9 p.m., where CNN has yet to announce a permanent host to replace Chris Cuomo, who was fired last year amid personal and professional conduct scrutiny that ultimately led to Zucker’s ouster. 

Licht said this month any buzz inside CNN that he and the company’s new corporate ownership are trying to pull CNN’s editorial direction to the center is “bullshit” and argued his focus is on improving the network’s journalism. 

During an interview with the journalist Kara Swisher earlier this month, Licht said he takes ownership for any job cuts and its effect on the network.

“Look, these are my cuts,” he said. “I own this. This is my strategy and if I thought that there was a cut that somehow I was getting pushed to do something that I thought would be, in the, not in the interest of this company, I would push back hard, and I’ve not had to do that.”

–Updated at 12:18 p.m.

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