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Updated Aug 23, 2023, 5:53pm EDT
mediabusiness

CNN considers former New York Times CEO for top job

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The Scoop

The former New York Times and BBC chief Mark Thompson is a leading candidate to lead CNN, according to people familiar with the conversations on both sides of the Atlantic.

Thompson, who left the Times in 2020 after 8 years, is among a group of candidates in the mix for the job, three people familiar with the recruiting process told Semafor.

Since the firing of CNN Chairman Chris Licht in June, CNN has been led by a triumvirate of veteran network leaders as it struggles for a place in a partisan U.S. cable news environment increasingly dominated by MSNBC and Fox News.

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Ben’s view

Thompson’s name has not appeared in voluminous published speculation about the top CNN role, but he has obvious qualifications. He arrived at the New York Times at a desperate moment, and led a spectacular turnaround that turned the company into a dominant player in digital news.

But Thompson’s roots are in TV. Like many top television executives, he began his career as a star producer in the 1980s, and in his 30s led prestige U.K. news programs including Newsnight and Panorama.

Thompson, 66, held top programming jobs at the BBC before becoming chief executive of Channel 4 and then Director-General of the BBC, a high-stakes, intensely political job atop a complex public broadcaster.

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That is to say, Thompson’s credentials as a media turnaround artist and as a manager of giant, high-wire corporate cultures media are unmatched. That experience might make him an attractive choice for WBD CEO David Zaslav after Licht, a star programmer who had not run a giant company, struggled in the role.

Thompson didn’t respond to a request for comment on the role, and a spokesman for WarnerBrothers Discovery declined to comment.

Friends say there’s no guarantee that Thompson would want the job, which appears likely to feature endless rounds of grim cost-control measures for a slowly declining cable business and an uncertain streaming future.

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He’s said to spending time at his home in Maine and enjoying board posts at institutions like the Royal Shakespeare Company. He was knighted by King Charles of England in June. But television, former New York Times colleagues say, is in his blood, and it may be hard for him not to consider the top job at an iconic global company.

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Notable

Times digital revenue quadrupled and subscriptions increased by a factor of almost 10 during Thompson’s tenure.

One of his great assets at the Times, Thompson later said, was the “cold eye” of an outsider.

Thompson invested in The New European, a London publication born in response to Brexit.

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