CNN is breaking news — but not in the way it usually does.
The Warner Bros. Discovery-backed outlet it cutting into many of its operations in a bid to save money, which will result in a smaller employee base and less original programming, the result of broader cost controls that have continued at the parent company since it merged Discovery Communications with WarnerMedia. Some of the moves include ending one of the nation’s longest-running morning programs and paring back on the number of non-staff contributors utilized on air.
HLN, the cable network once known as CNN Headline News, is home to a bevy of true-crime series, endless showings of “Forensic Files,” and “Morning Express with Robin Meade,” which features a host who has been at the network since 2001. CNN will cease to produce original shows for the network, ousting the team that has produced “Morning Express With Robin Meade,” an A.M. program that has been around in several editions for more than two decades. In addition, a number of popular correspondents and journalists were terminated from the Warner Bros. Discovery backed outlet Thursday.
In a memo sent to staffers Thursday, CNN CEO Chris Licht said the news operation “will be reducing open job positions, reimagining our workflows and aligning our staffing, investments and focus around three key strategic priorities: programming, newsgathering and digital. All decisions are designed to strengthen the core of our business.”
CNN will simulcast “CNN This Morning” in place of “Morning Express,” the A.M. news program that takes up most of HLN’s daytime schedule. HLN’s true-crime programming will be placed under the aegis of Warner Bros. Discovery executive Kathleen Finch, and made more a part of the operations of the company’s ID cable network. Meanwhile, CNN correspondents Alison Kosik, Martin Savidge, Alex Field, Mary Ann Fox and Chris Cillizza are among the staffers who have been let go, according to two people familiar with the matter. A CNN spokesperson declined to comment.
CNN typically operates with a staff of between 4,000 and 4,500, according to a person familiar with the matter. The layoffs have been anticipated since Licht in October signaled a tougher operating environment, and indicated he hoped to have cost cuts completed by the end of the year.
CNN’s search to cut costs comes as its corporate parent is grappling with some onerous business conditions. Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav made a commitment to investors that the company would cut $3 billion in costs after acquiring the assets of the company formerly known as WarnerMedia from AT&T. The company recently indicated in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it would have to spend between $1 billion and $1.5 billion to scrap programming already commissioned and pay out severance packages. Warner Bros. Discovery also said it expected to take write-downs of potentially more than $4 billion in pre-tax charges through 2022.
HLN once served as a sort of “CNN2,” and featured a “wheel” of quick news segments in a format that ran throughout the day. But it has gone through major transformations in recent years, and has long been difficult to monetize. Cable operators get it as part of a package with its flagship sibling, rather than paying a separate carriage fee for its use.
In recent years, under the aegis of CNN executive Ken Jautz, HLN burnished crime documentary series and competed directly with cable networks like NBCUniversal’s Oxygen and Discovery’s Investigation Discovery, also known as ID. He also tested a news-and-talk format that gave new hours to anchors like S.E. Cupp and Ashleigh Banfield. Not too long ago, after featuring hours of court coverage, HLN tried to court younger viewers, trying everything from primetime movies to game shows.
Licht outlined a series of other moves, including replacing an hour of international programming with a show from CNN’s U.S. schedule; expanding CNN’s Spanish-language outlet beyond news; relying more heavily on experts in particular subjects than general contributors; and cutting back or combining production staffs for shows.