Former CNN head Chris Licht's communications catastrophe
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Former CNN head Chris Licht's communications catastrophe

Jan 15, 2024

Photo Illustration: Tiffany Herring/Axios. Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

The damning 15,000-word profile in The Atlantic was the final nail in the coffin for CNN's recently ousted CEO Chris Licht, whose newsroom was bogged down by low ratings and even lower morale.

Why it matters: The profile itself embodies how not all press is good press, and Licht's desire for outside validation did him no favors inside CNN.

Catch-up quick: Licht was brought in to replace predecessor Jeff Zucker during a time of uncertainty — the news organization had been through a major merger, was anticipating countless rounds of layoffs and was in the midst of a major scandal and subsequent lawsuit filed by their former primetime anchor.

Yes, but: A broken, ratings-driven culture is not unique to CNN. Every major TV news network has dealt with internal turmoil in one form or another.

Between the lines: Top communicators from other networks recognize they too are vulnerable to harsh criticism, which is why many were confused by CNN's decision to give The Atlantic such unfettered access.

By the numbers: While The Atlantic was embedded with Licht, he was also participating in other self-promotional interviews.

Context: According to sources Axios spoke with, Licht's peers at the other networks regularly turned down these sort of media opportunities.

State of play: Engaging in a steady drumbeat of press is uncommon for new executives, says one communications professional who has overseen several CEO transitions.

What they're saying: During an editorial call on Monday, Licht apologized by saying, "I should not be in the news unless it's taking arrows for you," a source on the call told Axios' Sara Fischer.

What we're watching: CNN and another embattled media company, Twitter, have recently brought in top communication professionals — David Leavy at CNN and Joe Benarroch at Twitter — to manage business operations and get the houses in order.

Why it matters: Catch-up quick: Yes, but: Between the lines: By the numbers: On average, Context: State of play: What they're saying: What we're watching: