CNN's Politics Division Drops More Than a Dozen Posts in Move to Increase Digital Content

August 8th, 2014 6:45 PM

While the Cable News Network continues to suffer from low ratings, its corporate headquarters has made a number of changes in an effort to hold down costs and change its focus. The latest move came this week, when more than a dozen employees in the cable television channel's digital politics division learned that their positions will be eliminated by the end of the month.

According to an article by Peter Sterne on the website, the workers “were told that they would have to re-apply to new positions with new job descriptions.”

The restructuring, which affects employees working for CNN's digital politics team in Washington, D.C., is a consequence of the network's plan to build a new digital politics product, Sterne noted.

However, the news isn't all bad. Time Warner's careers site currently lists 15 positions related to the division, and a CNN spokesman said it will add two more later this week.

“In May, CNN hired Ed O'Keefe as vice-president of CNNMoney and Politics,” the reporter noted. A veteran network executive, “he had been editor-in-chief of NowThis News, which specialized in producing short, mobile-friendly videos about news topics.”

Despite this week's layoffs, O'Keefe said that he plans to double the size of the digital politics staff while shifting the network's focus to video and mobile content.

"We are creating a political product that doesn't exist, adding resources and focusing on critical areas of traffic and revenue growth: mobile, social and video," he stated.

“Currently, CNN's politics website is organized around its text-heavy blog Political Ticker -- a reverse-chronological series of newspaper article-style posts about political events written by CNN's digital politics reporters,” Sterne noted.

“The new vision for the digital politics emphasizes social and mobile-optimized video content,” he continued, “which means the old reporting-centric positions are being replaced by more social-centric ones.”

As an example of the new posts, the reporter pointed to a recent job listing that describes the duties of an "Editor, Digital Politics, CNN." That person must be able to "conceptualize, write and edit content focused on a user-driven strategy that understands the nuances of packaging content for the web, mobile web, social (primarily Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and leading social messaging apps), and apps."

However, this isn't the first time CNN has laid off employees as part of the executives' plan to further integrate its television and digital news operations.

On May 1, the company fired 50 employees, and while some positions were eliminated, the same number of new jobs were being created, but with different descriptions or responsibilities.

The bulk of those layoffs were in the New York bureau, though staff members in Washington, D.C,. and Atlanta were also involved. The employees who were laid off or given new roles worked in news gathering, CNN Digital and the company's libraries, as well as at CNN Money, which CNN acquired on June 1 as part of Time Inc.'s spinoff from parent Time Warner.

That move came a month after 16 employees in CNN's image and sound department were laid off in Atlanta.

As NewsBusters previously reported, these changes are part of an effort for the network to shift from televised “hard news” to more unscripted programming, like Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown and films like Blackfish.

And of course, the changes are being made in part due to CNN's perennially low ratings. During the second quarter of 2014, the cable channel beat MSNBC (just barely) in total day numbers. However, CNN remained in third place during prime time.

With a 105,000 average in the important 25- to 54-year-old demographic for the total day, CNN tied sister network HLN for second place, putting MSNBC in fourth place in that category this past quarter.

Anderson Cooper 360 had an average of 499,000 viewers, which made it the most-watched show on CNN in prime time for the quarter. His 8 p.m. show was the second-highest rated hour on CNN in the demo with 158,000 behind CNN Special Report’s 170,000.

Another bright spot for CNN came in the form of Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown, which was the top-rated show across all of cable news in the vital demo, averaging 402,000 over its eight Sunday night episodes.

That show helped make the channel the top program in the the weekend prime time demo for the three-month period, with an average of 189,000 viewers and in second place among total viewers with an audience of 483,000 people.

So will the significant restructuring revive what once was called “The Most Trusted Name in News?” Will the shift to more digital programming make up for CNN's low ratings? And will all the people laid off in the transition find new jobs within the network or be forced to work elsewhere?

Stay tuned.