When CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker opens up to the media, good quotes often result. “Chaos is good for CNN,” Zucker told New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman for a just-published profile. That quote refers to the late-August news burst stemming from the protests in Ferguson, Mo., over the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown; CNN thrived in primetime ratings for the important 25-54 demographic.
CNN’s good fortunes in turbulent times are, of course, well known by now. The 24-7 news network, founded in 1980, excels on breaking news and flounders when not much is going on. Under Zucker, that difficult duality has meant that when there are compelling stories out there, CNN doesn’t relent. Sherman reports: “According to CNN sources, Tapper vented to colleagues about having to cover the George Zimmerman trial so extensively, and Cooper protested the MH370 marathon.”
Deal with it, big-shot hosts. If CNN somehow fails to overcover a Zimmerman trial or a disappeared Malaysia Airlines plane, it’s wasting the sunk costs in its journalism operation — and there are a lot of them.
Speaking of costs, that’s a big topic at CNN, and one that Sherman’s profile just grazes. Over the summer, Zucker made clear to CNN staffers that they’d have to do “less with less” at a network that will be losing staff in the coming months. That’ll make it harder for Zucker to push the network to its long-since-surrendered spot atop the cable news scramble. In June 2013, Zucker said, “ask me again in three years” when he was asked about his timeline for preeminence. Now he’s telling Sherman, “It’s not about a path to No. 1 here. What we talk about is making the network essential and better.”