CNN made it official today: Jeff Zucker, the former chief executive of NBCUniversal, will take over in January as president of CNN Worldwide. To roll out the news of the new boss, CNN just finished a conference call with Zucker for reporters who cover the media.
Zucker spent 50 minutes saying just about nothing, which is de rigueur for a new leader on the verge of taking over an organization. Asked what he’ll be up to at CNN, Zucker said he’ll be “true to journalistic values that have always been the hallmark” of CNN. Asked again about his plans, Zucker said that “CNN will remain true to its standards of great journalism.” Asked about something else, Zucker said, “We’re not going to lose the standards that are the hallmark of CNN.”
When asked about morning programming challenges, Zucker said, “I think that mornings are a very important way to begin every day on the network.” Also: They’re the only way to start the day on the network.
Taking a page from every fast-talking media exec in the country, Zucker spurned the conventional notion about the network’s rivals. “Our competition is not just Fox and MSNBC,” said Zucker, invoking the wilderness of information alternatives beyond the big three cable news stops. And speaking of the partisan tilts of those channels, Zucker said, “Just because you’re not partisan doesn’t mean you can’t be exciting.”
It wasn’t all hollow talk. When asked by New York Times reporter Brian Stelter about a complaint among insiders that CNN’s content sometimes disappoints, Zucker blah-blahed about how there “shouldn’t be a journalistic venture anywhere, including the New York Times, that shouldn’t want to be better.” But then he got more honest: “Is it always consistent? No. Can it be more consistent? Of course, and everyone should have that goal.”
Perhaps more newsworthy than Zucker’s comments were those of Phil Kent, the chairman and chief executive officer of Turner Broadcasting System. If you’re ready for a programming revolution from CNN’s flagship property, Kent’s statements may disappoint you.
He said, “CNN doesn’t have an identity problem. We’ve had some executional problems. We can be executing more consistently, and not only in prime time.”
Kent added that CNN needs to get “the best performance from the people we already have. … There isn’t a show that can’t always be better. We have a lot of talent here.”