CNN restructuring digital operation, will lay off staffers

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CNN is restructuring its digital news operation and laying off some staffers.

The layoffs are symptomatic of problems throughout the digital media marketplace. The ad sales climate is bleak and getting bleaker, so publishers are making cuts and mapping out new strategies.

A CNN spokeswoman said "fewer than 50" jobs will be eliminated, all on the digital side of the business.

CNN's plans were shared with staffers in town hall meetings on Tuesday. CNN president Jeff Zucker and CNN Digital general manager Andrew Morse said the round of layoffs would take place later this week.

CNN Digital, including CNN.com, mobile apps, CNNMoney, and other aspects of the business, has more than 600 employees altogether.

The layoffs will affect a number of different departments, including video production, programming, and product development.

At the same time, CNN Digital is still hiring in other areas. So this week's cutbacks mirror what's been happening in other web newsrooms. Growing businesses are looking for ways to grow faster to meet ambitious revenue and profit targets.

CNN Digital faced a budget shortfall in 2017, much like Vice and BuzzFeed, two other closely-watched digital news operations. Vice went through a round of layoffs last July. BuzzFeed also had layoffs.

For all of these companies, the increased power of Google and Facebook has posed serious challenges.

Morse addressed this at one of the town halls on Tuesday, according to prepared text of his talk provided by a CNN spokesman. Morse said the strength of the "digital duopoly" of Google and Facebook is a factor. He also said internal "financial targets were overly aggressive," structural impediments got in the way of growth, and that CNN had "tried to do too much too fast."

Morse's restructuring plan is intended to address this. CNN Digital editor-in-chief Meredith Artley will have direct oversight of the CNNMoney and CNNPolitics parts of the company. Several different units that produce web video, and sometimes collide into one another, will be consolidated under senior vice president Chris Berend. Another senior vice president, Ed O'Keefe, will have a new role overseeing content development. VP of communications Matt Dornic will add oversight of partnerships with platforms like Facebook and Snap.

Morse also shared a new mission statement with the staff: CNN Digital, he said, should be "the world's most essential and engaging digital news source."

Some of the changes were first reported by Vanity Fair on Monday.

By any metric, CNN Digital is already huge. In looking for ways to further expand, there have been some hits and some misses. CNN executives praise the performance of Great Big Story, a hub for branded content, but they recently pulled back from a partnership with Snapchat and parted ways with YouTube star Casey Neistat.

Neistat, a much-ballyhooed hire, had been developing a standalone business called Beme. CNN will hold onto the technology while shuttering the rest of the operation.

"We've been transparent about our strategy," a CNN spokesman said in a statement about this week's cutbacks. "In order to innovate, grow and experiment, we've added more than 200 jobs in the past 18 months. Not every new project has paid off so we will stop some activities in order to reallocate those resources and enable future experimentation. Organizations that do not make big bets and continuously evolve are the ones that fail."

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