CNN U.S. topper ankles

Klein out after six years at cable news network

CNN U.S. topper Jon Klein is out after six years at the troubled cable news network.

CNN Worldwide prexy Jim Walton announced Klein’s exit and a new cabler structure in a memo to staffers on Friday morning.

“We’re clearly not satisfied with the ratings,” Walton later told reporters in a hastily-organized phone conference.

Under the new setup, HLN’s Ken Jautz will now run CNN U.S. as exec VP (Klein had held the title of president).

Jautz’s HLN has repped one of CNN’s few success stories as of late, and even beats its bigger sister in some time periods.

Walton also emphasized Jautz’s journalistic credentials.

“Ken is an accomplished journalist, executive and programmer,” Walton said. “He covered the first Gulf War for us, he covered the Balkans, and he was in a number of other conflict areas.”

Walton said he was also impressed with Jautz’s success in bringing viewers to HLN “who wouldn’t cannibalize the CNN network.”

Replacing Jautz at HLN will be Scot Safon, who will now serve as exec VP and run the net. Safon was previously chief marketing officer of CNN Worldwide.

“He is an innovator; HLN is an ideal news and information laboratory,” Walton said.

Safon was characterized as “a career marketer,” which Walton admitted didn’t “seem like a logical progression,” but he touted Saxon’s people skills and closeness to Walton’s own inner circle of direct reports.

Walton said the company would also name an exec VP and managing editor of CNN Worldwide at a later date.

All three exec VP positions will report directly to Walton.

CNN’s numbers have been in serious decline for most of 2010, when the net saw several embarrassing milestones: worst single month in history (February, when it dropped behind even HLN), worst quarter ever for both “Larry King Live” and “Campbell Brown” (second quarter), and Brown’s abrupt resignation.

“We need to be more relevant, more interesting and more entertaining,” Walton said.

Klein leaves on the eve of a CNN primetime launch that he helped construct, including the upcoming launch of “Parker Spitzer” and the January debut of Piers Morgan in Larry King’s time slot.

Klein spearheaded the replacement of Brown and King with the Eliot Spitzer/Kathleen Parker debate show and Morgan, respectively, and Walton backed up those choices on Friday morning.

“Ken is bullish on Kathleen and Eliot as well as Piers,” he said.

To industryites, the new lineup appeared to rep Klein’s last chance with Turner brass, but his departure – which Walton refused to characterize as a dismissal, though he did say that he “had a conversation earlier this week” with Klein – signals otherwise.

When asked why Klein left before the start of the primetime lineup, Walton said, “We thought it was very important to make the moves before we launched the programs so that we didn’t appear to show any dissatisfaction with those shows.” In other words, Klein was already on his way out.

Publicly, Walton had nothing but praise for Klein.

“Jon has made important contributions to the CNN story and he leaves with our respect and friendship, and with my sincere thanks,” Walton said.

Walton also played up CNN Worldwide’s financial successes in arenas besides the org’s flagship network, noting that CNN U.S.’s ad sales account for less than 10% of CNN Worldwide’s revenue.

“CNN is not broken,” Walton said.

In fact, Walton’s deepest displeasure seemed to be with bad press. “The frustrating part to me is that when people come in and offer comments on how to fix CNN,” Walton said.

(Michael Schneider contributed to this report.)