CNN Managing Editor Mark Whitaker Departs As Jeff Zucker Takes Hold

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The EVP and managing editor who oversees the editorial tone and direction at CNN is exiting, making way for new CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker to handle those duties. Mark Whitaker‘s position will not be filled. “…With Jeff Zucker’s arrival, we have a new leader with his own forceful ideas about where to take CNN’s reporting, programming and brand”, Whitaker wrote in a memo obtained by TV Newser. “For him to succeed, I believe he deserves his own team and management structure and the freedom to communicate one clear vision to the staff.”

Whitaker came aboard two years ago from MSNBC and spearheaded several moves at the cable news network, which suffered a ratings slump during most of 2012. He spearheaded such moves as bringing back Soledad O’Brien to a revamped morning show; adding names like Anthony Bourdain and Morgan Spurlock to the network (their shows are scheduled to premiere later this year); and starting a documentary label CNN Films. His departure is the latest in what will be several moves at CNN with Zucker taking over; the new boss just plucked Rachel Nichols from ESPN to host a sports show and is in deep negotiations with 20/20 co-anchor Chris Cuomo to join the morning show. Here’s Whitaker’s full memo to staff:

Dear CNN Colleagues:

Two and a half years ago, when Jeff Bewkes, Phil Kent and Jim Walton first approached me about joining CNN in the newly created role of Managing Editor across all our TV and digital platforms, I told them that I would welcome the challenge under three conditions.

The first was that the CNN recommit itself to Ted Turner’s global vision of being the premier destination for news both domestic and international. I am proud that since I took the job, we have made good on that goal. From Election Day 2012 to our recent coverage of Superstorm Sandy and the Newtown school massacre, we have remained the network that Americans turn to when news matters most. On the international front, we have done groundbreaking reporting on everything from the Arab Spring and the uprising in Syria to the Japanese tsunami and the financial crisis in Europe. In 2011 that coverage brought us the best ratings we had had in years, and in 2012 it won us a record number of awards, including two Emmys, three Peabodys and four Eppys for our digital coverage.

The second condition was that we do more to drive editorial integration between CNN.com and our TV networks. I am gratified by the progress we have made in this area, from our weekly In Depth offerings to the inspiring CNN Heroes collaboration to the growth of CNN Money, iReport, Belief Blog, In America and other digital franchises. As our formidable traffic numbers attest, CNN’s future as a go-to destination for news online and across today’s new mobile and social media platforms looks very bright.

The third condition was that we make CNN a leader in diversity in its broadest sense—in the backgrounds of our on- and off-air talent, but also in the range of their experience and points of view. As Executive Vice President in charge of program and talent development, I was thrilled to attract Amy Entelis, Vinnie Malhotra and Ramon Escobar to CNN and to work with them to recruit journalists like Jake Tapper, John Berman and Miguel Marquez, contributors like Margaret Hoover, Van Jones, Ross Douthat, Charles Blow, Ron Brownstein and Ryan Lizza, and specialists like ESPN sports reporter Rachel Nichols.

On the programming front, my team has created the exciting new CNN Films franchise for distinguished documentaries and brought Anthony Bourdain and Morgan Spurlock to CNN to launch signature shows that will expand our scope of storytelling.

Now, with Jeff Zucker’s arrival, we have a new leader with his own forceful ideas about where to take CNN’s reporting, programming and brand. For him to succeed, I believe he deserves his own team and management structure and the freedom to communicate one clear vision to the staff. I have shared that conclusion with him and he has agreed to let me step down as Managing Editor and move on from CNN.

As someone who worked with Jeff at NBC, I know what a bold innovator he is, and I wish him and you all the best as you embark on CNN’s next great adventure.

Good luck and thanks for everything,
Mark

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