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WorldAmericasMark Thompson Becomes CNN's New CEO in Time of Crisis

Mark Thompson Becomes CNN’s New CEO in Time of Crisis

Can Thompson Turn Around CNN's Declining Fortunes and Ratings?

Mark Thompson, the former CEO of The New York Times and director-general of the BBC, is stepping into a new role as the CEO and editor-in-chief of CNN. The timing couldn’t be more critical. CNN is grappling with declining profits, dwindling cable subscriptions, and a television-ad market that’s seen better days. Thompson, knighted by King Charles III and set to officially take over in early October, faces the daunting task of steering a network in crisis.

CNN’s challenges are not just financial; they are existential. The network, once a bastion of journalistic integrity, especially during the Trump years, has seen its ratings and staff morale plummet in the post-Trump era. After becoming a subsidiary in Warner Bros. Discovery, the network’s new CEO, David Zaslav, aimed for a less polarizing approach. His appointment of Chris Licht, however, ended in a firing after just thirteen months, leaving the network in a state of uncertainty.

Thompson, 66, brings a wealth of experience to the table. His tenure at the BBC saw the broadcaster’s successful transition to digital distribution. At The New York Times, he transformed a struggling print newspaper into a thriving digital lifestyle company. Thompson’s dual role at CNN, overseeing both business and news operations, is a unique position that could be the network’s saving grace.

Born to an Irish mother and a British father, Thompson’s upbringing was influenced by a blend of cultures and ambitions. Educated by the Jesuits and a graduate of Merton College, Oxford, Thompson has always been a force to reckon with. His career began at the BBC, where he quickly climbed the ranks, earning a reputation as a savvy operator with a distinct point of view. His leadership style is described as “ferociously intellectually confident,” and he’s known for his “feral” edge—a blend of roguish charm and worldly sophistication.

Thompson’s journey to the top has not been without controversy, as understood by the Guardian. In 1988, he reportedly bit a fellow BBC staffer, an incident he did not deny. His unorthodox approach to leadership was evident when he took over The New York Times, a publicly traded company, despite having never run one before. Yet, his impact was transformative. He shifted the paper’s focus from print advertising to digital subscriptions, a move that proved to be a financial lifesaver.

As Thompson prepares to take over CNN, he faces a series of challenges. Warner Bros. Discovery has been implementing mass layoffs, and there’s speculation that Thompson may have to make deep cuts. However, his strength lies in his ability to identify and address the big questions facing the network. His first days on the job will be spent listening to staff, a move already seen as a positive departure from the previous era.

Thompson’s leadership comes at a time when the network needs it the most. The decline in cable subscriptions and ad revenue has left CNN searching for new revenue streams and audiences. Thompson’s experience in navigating similar challenges at the BBC and The New York Times makes him a promising choice for the network’s future.

In a media landscape where polarization sells, Thompson’s challenge will be to find a balance between editorial integrity and commercial viability. His track record suggests that he’s up for the task, but only time will tell if he can steer CNN through these turbulent waters and into a new era of journalistic excellence and financial stability.

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Qamar Munawer
Qamar Munawer
Associate Editor at The Eastern Herald.

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