CNN Newsgathering President Eason Jordan’s memo to CNN staff:
To: CNN colleagues
From: Eason Jordan
The CNN News Group will undergo a radical transformation in the weeks ahead as we strive to make our great news organization better than ever, heightening CNN’s competitive edge.
I am an outspoken advocate of revolutionary change within CNN and am the architect of many of the initiatives we are implementing across the News Group, especially in Newsgathering. In this note I provide details of the coming Newsgathering changes and explain why I believe these innovations are not only desirable but essential.
First, the hard part: this process initially will be painful for us because approximately 400 of our colleagues — our friends — will be leaving CNN due to these changes. In virtually every case their jobs are being eliminated not because they failed in their work but because an exhaustive examination of CNN’s staffing needs determined the re-engineered CNN needs 3,950 employees, not 4,350. We are losing good people, many of them long-time colleagues. I know all of us staying at CNN will be thoughtful and caring in helping our departing colleagues through this difficult time. The leaders of CNN intend to handle these departures in as sensitive and supportive a way as possible. Those whose jobs are being eliminated will be told by their managers the week of January 22. Several dozen people whose jobs are eliminated will be offered a position elsewhere in CNN. Colleagues whose jobs are eliminated and have no opportunity to stay with CNN in an equivalent position in the same city at the same pay will be offered a severance package based on tenure and salary that is more than twice as generous as the Company’s standard severance package. The Company also will offer those leaving CNN counseling and outplacement services and, for a time, continued access to their CNN e-mail account/address. Everything possible will be done to minimize the pain for everyone directly or indirectly involved in this process.
Over two decades CNN has grown from the little news network that could into the world’s best and most widely available news source with thousands of staffers producing 34 news services in 12 languages available to more than a billion people worldwide. We should be enormously proud of all our successes. But in this intensely competitive and rapidly changing world, we must be even better. Last summer the top executives of TBS and CNN called together three dozen CNN leaders and challenged them to evaluate every aspect of CNN and recommend how CNN should re-make and position itself for its third decade and the 21st century. The CNN leadership group returned weeks later with sweeping innovation recommendations affecting virtually every part of CNN. The changes outlined below (and others outside Newsgathering) are an outgrowth of the recommendations made by nearly 40 of CNN’s leaders, whose only goal was to make CNN all it should be, not necessarily cut costs or staff. In fact, in the wake of the implementation of our initiatives, CNN will spend more in 2001 than in any previous year; employ more journalists, including 150 full-fledged correspondents, than ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC combined; and have more bureau cities (soon to grow from 40 to 42) than the other U.S. networks combined. CNN is in robust health, is the market leader across multiple platforms, and is poised for long-term growth.
Now let’s focus on the reasons for major change in CNN Newsgathering:
1. Demand: As CNN has grown from one tiny U.S.-targeted network to 34 TV, radio and interactive services for the world, the demands placed upon CNN’s newsgathering resources have greatly changed. CNN Newsgathering must do more to meet the individual needs of our many outlets. At the same time, CNN USA and CNN Headline News programming initiatives will reduce the appetite of those networks for correspondent packages (CNN International’s package appetite remains undiminished). CNN USA will air many correspondent packages focusing on big/important stories, relevant news (medical, for instance), and distinctive, compelling storytelling. What we will see far less often on CNN USA are B-grade stories that are not especially important or interesting. With a diminished demand for correspondent TV reports, we will enable our correspondents to focus more on quality and to more often provide tailored reporting for our interactive services. Far more so than in the past, we intend to pre-purpose reporting — crafting reporting specifically for TV, radio, or the Web — rather than have one correspondent report sliced and diced for use by all our services. We also intend to devote far greater resources to major breaking news stories, giving us one or two correspondents dedicated to live reporting and at least one or two correspondents focused on thoughtful package reporting.
2. Coordination: In the past, more than a dozen elements of CNN had dedicated newsgathering resources that fell outside of Newsgathering oversight and were not always used for the greater good of the News Group. Our newsgathering coordination, deployments, and planning must be smarter, more coordinated, and more efficient.
3. Bureau-driven reporting: While we require enlightened newsgathering oversight, more of our reporting needs to come at the initiative of our correspondents and field producers. With less of a top-down newsgathering effort — we have 40 bureaus in part because we want our correspondents to the news to tell us what we should be reporting — I believe our correspondents will thrive.
We intend to address these issues and greatly improve CNN Newsgathering by implementing the changes outlined below. In no way will CNN’s changes compromise our longstanding commitment to serious journalism, journalistic excellence, and integrity.
Integrating our newsgathering efforts is critical to this innovation process.
1. Teamwork: The days of thinking of each of the dozens of CNN services and units as a separate silo are over. We are all on the same team. Each one of us must help and support one another. CNN’s executives intend to lead by example. CNN’s editorial input and output efforts fall under three areas of oversight: U.S. networks and services (Jim Walton), international networks and services (Chris Cramer), and worldwide newsgathering (me). Jim, Chris and I work well together and expect our colleagues to do the same.
2. One newsgathering infrastructure: Unlike in the past, CNN’s newsgathering resources will function as one unit to serve all parts of the Company, while fulfilling the requirements of each of CNN’s networks and services.
3. Cross-platform: CNN newsgatherers must be multi-skilled and meet the requirements of our TV, radio and interactive services. No longer will a newsgatherer work only for TV or Radio or Interactive. Correspondents whose expertise is TV reporting must know how to write for Interactive and provide tracks for Radio — and deliver for them as needed. Newsgathering bosses, at the same time, must be judicious and reasonable in assigning cross-platform reporting. On occasion, for example, a correspondent who usually reports for TV might be assigned to report only for Interactive or Radio, while another correspondent focuses on TV. That way, our reporting is better, with content tailored for the platform and service.
We intend to accelerate our plans to introduce compact hi-tech newsgathering gear. Look for the quick introduction of small, high-quality DV cameras and laptop editing equipment (a Mac laptop), enabling us to deploy smaller reporting teams — one or two people at times — when it makes sense. Larger gear will be with us for some time to come and will be used as needed. But the days of routinely dispatching three- and four-person reporting teams with cases of bulky equipment are approaching an end. As we introduce this new gear, correspondents would do well to learn how to shoot and edit (even if called upon only occasionally to utilize those skills), and smart shooters and editors will learn how to write and track. While this is not a one-size-fits-all strategy and CNN will always value exceptional ability, the more multi-talented a newsgatherer, the more opportunity the News Group will provide that person.
Our U.S. newsgathering efforts will undergo significant change:
1. Super Desk: A revolutionary concept — Keith McAllister’s idea — placing CNN’s shift leaders from U.S. and International Newsgathering and our key outlets together at a to-be-constructed Atlanta newsroom roundtable. The results: faster, smarter editorial decision-making; enhanced cross-service/platform thinking/communications; better prioritizing; clearer direction to bureaus; better matching of talent to tasks; create organic continuity, a rolling, collaborative editorial process for same-day and futures’ decision-making; demonstrate “one CNN” by example. The U.S. and International Desks will function as extensions of the Super Desk.
2. Beats: News Feature units are being re-invented as beats, with the difference being that beats are made up exclusively of expert correspondents and producers, not dedicated field crews, who henceforth will work from a pool to serve all beats. A beat can be as small as one person or as large as several. Beat journalists will report for all platforms. In addition to our traditional News Feature focus areas — medical, environment, etcetera — we are adding as beats education and religion.
3. National Bureau: Our Southeast bureau and National Correspondents’ group are being merged into a new Atlanta-based National Bureau, for the first time grouping together all our Atlanta-based hard news newsgathering resources. Charlie Hoff will lead this group as National Bureau Chief.
4. Investigative unit: An Atlanta-based one-correspondent, three-producer team dedicated to digging and breaking news (separate from our expanded long-form unit under Vivian Schiller’s oversight). Part of the new National Bureau.
5. Leadership: A veteran of our Washington and New York bureaus, Nancy Lane, will move to Atlanta and become Keith McAllister’s chief deputy as VP and Executive Director of U.S. Coverage. Nancy is a dynamo whose leadership will invigorate our U.S. newsgathering efforts. Keith McAllister will today make a separate announcement regarding other structural and personnel changes on the National Assignment Desk.
6. Wires.CNN: This group will double in size to 10 journalists and for the first time write and post stories directly for and on CNN Interactive.
7. Breaking News: We are significantly boosting the money budgeted for our breaking news coverage.
As with U.S. Newsgathering, we need to make radical changes in the way we assign and disseminate CNN news coverage from overseas. And, here again, we will move to completely integrate each and every newsgathering and production resource. Our international bureaus have done excellent work over the years but, with the huge expansion of CNN International, business programming and now the Europe and Asia Web sites, we must organize ourselves differently and radically change the ways we work. Including staff from all our units and services, we now have 150 journalists and back-up staff in London and 85 in Hong Kong, where we have just opened CNN’s first fully-integrated news operation. These huge production resources, put in place to support our CNN International program expansion, will be seamlessly integrated with our newsgathering resources. We will take these steps to bolster our international newsgathering:
1. Leadership: Parisa Khosravi is being promoted to Senior Vice President and will continue overseeing all international coverage and newsgathering resources.
2. Regional chiefs: We plan in the weeks ahead to appoint two Senior Vice Presidents — one for Europe/Mideast/Africa and one for the Asia-Pacific — who will organize and drive our integration in their respective regions, ensuring that all our journalists work together for all our services. They will report ultimately to me on Newsgathering issues and to Chris Cramer on all matters concerning international programming and Web sites. They will be CNN’s most senior editorial managers outside the U.S..
3. Regional Newsgathering Coordinators: We will establish London- and Hong Kong-based Regional Newsgathering Coordinators extensions of our Atlanta International Desk to provide planning and editorial support to our bureaus in these regions. This way our International Newsgathering machine will run at full speed during daylight hours around the clock, seven days a week, providing high quality coverage for all our services.
4. Regional support hubs: Our London and Hong Kong production bases will expand the range of support services they provide to smaller, regional bureaus: HR, training, appraisal, logistics and engineering.
5. London integration: We are urgently exploring the possibility of finding a new bureau location in London that would enable us to have a better and better-integrated joint London newsroom and production center.
6. New bureaus: We will announce within two weeks the opening of two more bureaus and by March will reactivate our dormant Rio de Janeiro bureau.
7. New money/resources: International Newsgathering will set aside far more money this year for breaking news coverage, dedicate more money and resources to covering Africa, and enlarge and strengthen our International Desk in Atlanta.
8. Agents of change: As in the case of their U.S. Newsgathering counterparts, our overseas staff will need to learn new skills and train in multi-tasking and how to handle new equipment. A small team of CNN staffers will be deployed to each bureau around the world to demonstrate new ways of working and introduce new technology. Chris Cramer and I will visit CNN London February 2 and CNN Hong Kong February 5 to elaborate on these changes and answer questions about them. Regional bureau chiefs are encouraged to attend.
This important unit, under the leadership of Richard Griffiths, will fall under the oversight of Newsgathering and continue working to clear most of our reporting for air. Row veterans will play a more active role in the planning and shaping of our reporting. We plan to bolster this unit when feasible to ensure it is adequately staffed 24/7.
We are combining our two CNN affiliate services, (U.S.) Newsource and International Newsource. This consolidation will help us better serve our 670 U.S. affiliates and 200 international affiliates. The unit comes under the oversight of Jack Womack.
As we go forward with these sweeping innovations, I ask for your understanding and support. The initiatives are logical, prudent and, in some cases, long overdue. While change is difficult at times, complacency is not an option. Smart organizations and people strive to make themselves better every day. We will improve now and in the future in every way that makes sense. I hope and expect everyone in Newsgathering will embrace these changes and help ensure their success. With your support, I am sure the new CNN will be scrappier, smarter and better than ever.