CNN is laying off hundreds of employees in a cost-cutting effort that illuminates the financial challenges facing a wide array of media companies as the economy teeters toward a possible recession.
The cuts began on Wednesday and finished on Thursday, with affected employees notified in person or via Zoom.
“It is incredibly hard to say goodbye to any one member of the CNN team,” CNN chief executive Chris Licht wrote in a Wednesday staff memo obtained by The Washington Post, describing the cuts as a “gut punch.”
Chris Cillizza, who joined CNN as a politics reporter and editor-at-large in 2017, confirmed to The Post that he has been laid off. Susan Glasser, a CNN global affairs analyst, also said that she was “one of many” part-time commentators affected by the cuts. Rachel Metz, a senior technology writer, said she was “devastated” to have been laid off on Thursday.
Other television networks are planning cost-cutting measures over the winter. NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News and MSNBC, will lay off employees in January, according to a Business Insider report, though a news division spokesperson declined to comment Thursday. ABC News parent company Disney is similarly planning cuts under the leadership of Bob Iger, who recently returned as the company’s chief executive.
The country’s largest newspaper chain, Gannett, is undertaking a round of job cuts that is expected to affect roughly 200 journalists — at papers large and small — over the next two days. The company also laid off about 400 employees in August and froze hiring for hundreds more positions. “While incredibly difficult, implementing these efficiencies and responding decisively to the ongoing macroeconomic volatility will continue to propel Gannett’s future,” Gannett spokesperson Lark-Marie Antón said in an email.
Among those laid off was USA Today sports investigative reporter Rachel Axon, who has reported on sexual abuse in competitive sports. “I’m grateful for all those who trusted me with their stories,” she wrote on Twitter. “I’ve never forgotten the privilege of that — whether it was showing their triumphs or holding those who harmed them to account.”
One journalist for a Gannett-owned publication told The Post of being laid off over Zoom, leaving behind a newsroom of less than a dozen reporters. “They read from a script and thanked me for my service, which I find laughable,” the person said, spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly.
NPR is also facing a financial shortfall that will require $10 million in budget cuts over the next 10 months, chief executive John Lansing told employees on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, Washington Post executive editor Sally Buzbee informed employees of plans to close the company’s weekly print magazine, citing The Post’s plans for “global and digital transformation.”
“A lot of media companies right now are looking at the economy and saying to themselves, ‘We’re about to go into a recession and we’re going to need fewer people,’” said Chris Roush, dean of the School of Communications at Quinnipiac University.
CNN employees have been no stranger to cutbacks this year, since Licht moved quickly to shut down the network’s expensive new streaming service, CNN Plus, in April, barely three weeks after it launched. At the time, a network spokesperson said that about 350 employees would be affected, though some of the star journalists hired for the service — including Chris Wallace, Audie Cornish and Kasie Hunt — have remained with the network. CNN leadership also decided to part ways earlier this year with media correspondent Brian Stelter and the staff of his weekly “Reliable Sources” show in August, as well as White House correspondent John Harwood.
At a companywide meeting last month, Licht defended the need for layoffs but said he would aim to minimize the impact on newsgathering operations, according to an audio recording obtained by The Post. The cuts, he said, are part of a “strategic reimagining of how we do business” and an attempt to better position the network for 2023. Asked whether CNN expected more layoffs next year, he told employees “not at this time.”
In a memo on Thursday afternoon, Licht said that sister network HLN — once known as Headline News — will stop producing live programming, including the morning show hosted by Robin Meade, who has also been let go. The network now mostly airs unscripted shows focused on crime and mystery.
“These are painful decisions. They’re nerve-racking for everybody involved,” said digital media executive Jon Klein, who oversaw CNN U.S. between 2005 and 2010. “The only bright side is that you come away with a clearer understanding of where the value lies in your organization.”
Cutting costs “forces executives to look hard at their business and understand what does the audience value,” he said.
Roush, of Quinnipiac University, said that some media companies “grew way too fast” and over-invested in talent before establishing a sizable audience and business model. Klein added that television news has been hit hard by the trend of “cord-cutting,” struggling to offset the loss of cable subscription revenue and advertising dollars with gains in digital subscriptions.
Although the impact on journalism is hard to predict, the cuts come at the worst possible time for American democracy, argued Victor Pickard, professor of media policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication.
“This is about maximizing profits for shareholders,” Pickard said in an interview. “These are crass business decisions, and they are not considering the implications for democratic society. At this time in our nation’s history, any layoffs in media workers is a step in the wrong direction.”
At the company’s town hall meeting last month, Licht urged his journalists to keep reporting and developing sources but to do so cost-efficiently in what he said is a “tough economic environment” that could continue into next year.
“Of course you should be doing source dinners,” he said. “Maybe don’t do it with a bottle of Dom Pérignon.”