CNN names former BBC and New York Times executive Mark Thompson as its new leader

New chairman and chief executive replaces Chris Licht, who was fired in June, and a four-person team that ran the network in the interim

Mark Thompson has been called a 'true innovator' who pushed two of the world's most respected news organisations into the digital age. Bloomberg / Getty Images
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CNN is bringing in a former chief executive of the BBC and The New York Times in an attempt to turn around a news organisation that has burnt through two leaders and bled viewers over the past two years.

Mark Thompson was appointed as chairman and chief executive of CNN by David Zaslav, head of the network's parent company, Warner Bros Discovery, which made the announcement on Wednesday. Mr Thompson replaces Chris Licht, who was fired in June, and a four-person team that had been running CNN in the interim.

Mr Thompson, who left the Times in 2020 after eight years as that company's president and chief executive, is credited with transforming it into a digital-first organisation more dependent on paid subscribers than the collapsing advertising market that has doomed many newspapers. The England native was director general of the BBC from 2004 to 2012.

Mr Zaslav called him a “true innovator” who pushed two of the world's most respected news organisations into the digital age.

“His strategic vision, track record in transformational leadership and sheer passion for news makes him a formidable force for CNN and journalism at this pivotal time,” he said.

In a statement, Mr Thompson – who has been knighted by the British government – said that “where others see disruption, I see opportunity”.

Mr Licht was let go after a stormy 13 months in which CNN fall well behind Fox News and MSNBC in popularity, with opinionated news connecting more with viewers in a politically polarised time. He had encouraged CNN to find a middle ground and flex its newsgathering muscles.

He was doomed at the end by an Atlantic magazine profile that showed his failure to connect with many employees, many loyal to his predecessor, Jeff Zucker, who was pushed out in February 2022 after failing to disclose to his bosses a romantic relationship with a fellow network executive.

Besides ratings, CNN's finances have suffered. The network earned $892 million in profit in 2022, down from $1.08 billion in 2020, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Shortly after Mr Licht was named to his new job, CNN's new corporate masters pulled the plug on a well-publicised streaming service after only weeks in operation. This month, it announced that CNN news would be part of its Max streaming service.

CNN also fired two popular prime-time hosts over the past two years, Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon, the latter after an ill-fated move to a new morning show.

Mr Licht never settled on a new prime-time line-up in his tenure. The four-person interim leadership team – Amy Entelis, David Leavy, Virginia Moseley and Eric Sherling – recently set a new line-up that includes Kaitlan Collins, Abby Phillip and Laura Coates in weeknight roles, with veteran Christiane Amanpour and Chris Wallace getting new weekend gigs.

Updated: August 30, 2023, 3:12 PM