Axios.com media reporter Sara Fischer is a regular fixture in Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources show and newsletter. So it’s a little shocking that Fischer is reporting that Stelter could be on the chopping block if he can’t adopt CNN’s new tone of being more straight-ahead news and less partisan trash talk.
CNN's new boss, Chris Licht, is evaluating whether personalities and programming that grew polarizing during the Trump era can adapt to the network's new priority to be less partisan.
Why it matters: If talent cannot adjust to a less partisan tone and strategy, they could be ousted, three sources familiar with the matter tell Axios.
Details: Licht wants to give personalities that may appear polarizing a chance to prove they're willing to uphold the network's values so that they don't tarnish CNN's journalism brand
It's easy to argue that CNN's journalism brand has been tarnished for a long time, if not eroded into paste under Trump. But hey, Licht seems to be trying to take CNN backward to its subtler style of the 1990s, even if it was still mocked by conservatives as the Clinton News Network. Licht wants to stop Zucker-style interviews that focus on yelling at conservative or Republican guests.
For on-air talent, that includes engaging in respectful interviews that don't feel like PR stunts. For producers and bookers, that includes making programming decisions that are focused on nuance, not noise.
Between the lines: CNN's tone became more partisan and combative during the Trump era and under the leadership of former CNN president Jeff Zucker.
To conservative critics, some on-air personalities, like Jim Acosta and Brian Stelter, have become the face of the network's liberal shift.
Et tu, Fischer? There is no doubt that Acosta and Stelter are the faces of Zuckeresque aggression. But CNN watchers should remember that Stelter built a career very early on ingratiating himself with powerful media leaders. You should bet the college fund that Stelter is going to present himself as Licht's number-one helper and team player.
Licht doesn't want to scare everybody into watching CNN:
Licht said he agrees with complaints from "people both inside and outside the organization" that the network overuses the "Breaking News" banner.
“We are truth-tellers, focused on informing, not alarming our viewers,” he said in the note obtained by Axios.
The big picture: Zaslav and mentor and investor John Malone have been public about their wish to pull CNN away from progressive commentary.
"I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with, and actually have journalists, which would be unique and refreshing,” Malone told CNBC last year.
"Alarming viewers" has been perceived as a way for news channels to grab viewers and keep them glued to the screen. Zucker did that with the half-hour yelling interviews with Trump advisers like Kellyanne Conway. But too much "alarming" and viewers get jaded and depressed, and turn over to Game Show Network. CNN is still a "news" brand, like the Coke or Pepsi of news. That's what the new financiers of CNN are trying to restore to bring back better ratings.