Layoffs and the unrelenting pressure to produce more content with fewer people have given many journalists, never a cheery bunch in the best of times, new reasons for pessimism.
Not Andrew Morse, executive VP of editorial for CNN U.S. and general manager of CNN Digital Worldwide. While articulately dissecting many of the thorny problems facing TV news, Morse returns over and over again to the idea that new technologies and attitudes can help traditional news organizations thrive.
“I’m fond of citing…the phrase that losing generals fight the last war, not the next one,” he said. “What we need to do is aggressively embrace, from a position of strength, the fact that the business is changing and fight the next war without fear of what it means for what we did in the past.”
That willingness to embrace radical change is particularly important at CNN, which is working to revitalize its operations under the leadership of Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide.
Morse is a central figure in those efforts, with oversight of both the network’s global digital businesses and its domestic newsgathering, as well as the Washington bureau and D.C.-based programming. As 2016 election coverage heats up, CNN hopes to build on the strength of its popular digital operations, which celebrated their 20th anniversary in August, to attract new TV viewers.
“He is a rare combination of someone who has excelled in both worlds [of TV and digital] and successfully brought them together,” says Zucker, adding that those traits make Morse ideally suited “to lead CNN into the future.”
Raise Your Hand
Morse comes to that role with a lifelong love of journalism. “I can remember running around holding a lumbering VHS video camera that my grandfather gave me and trying to bang out a newspaper on my Apple IIe in elementary school,” recalls Morse.
After graduating from Cornell, where he edited the college paper, Morse unsuccessfully applied to dozens of daily newspapers. He eventually landed at ABC News as a desk assistant. “On that first job, I realized that if you raised your hand to do things no one else wanted to do, you got noticed,” Morse recalls.
That enthusiasm led to a role in 1997 with ABCNews.com, where Morse produced the first live webcast of the State of the Union address. He then had an eight-year stint overseas, first in London and then Hong Kong, working on some of the biggest international stories of era for ABC News.
“It was a marvelous odyssey,” Morse says of the experience that included professional successes—covering the USS Cole bombing in Yemen, the 2004 Asian tsunami and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—as well as a turning point in his personal life. Following a promotion to ABC Asia bureau chief, Morse met his future wife in Hong Kong (he eventually proposed to her by email from Iraq).
In 2005, the two decided to return to the States. Morse honed his skills as a producer, working as executive producer of Good Morning America’s Weekend Edition, and in digital, where he eventually oversaw ABC News’ digital portfolio. He and his wife also started a family; Morse now coaches soccer teams for both his son and daughter.
In 2011, Morse raised his hand to embark on a new challenge as head of U.S. television at Bloomberg. “We pivoted the resources and the cost structure to create an original digital video engine that could be programmed back into TV,” in effect reverse-engineering digital video for TV, he explains.
That success brought Morse to CNN in 2013. While the network still lags significantly behind Fox News in TV ratings, CNN. com racked up 194 million video views and attracted 34 million unique viewers in July, compared to 81 million streams and 8 million unique viewers for FoxNews.com.
CNN is betting that those successes will give it a major competitive advantage during the 2016 election season. The company has been investing heavily in its digital political coverage, hiring what Morse calls an “All-Star Team” for CNN Politics, which has been the most popular digital political destination for five months running with 18 million unique visitors and some 136 million page views on desktop and mobile in July. “We are really starting to see results every day breaking news across digital and TV,” Morse notes.
“I’m fortunate enough to know what it feels like to sit in an editing room one minute from [longtime ABC News anchor] Peter Jennings going on air and being terrified that the piece won’t be ready in time,” he adds. “But the reality is that the days of rushing…to make just a 6:30 broadcast are over. The deadlines we need to meet are everywhere, and all around us.”
And that, Morse continues with characteristic optimism, “is why this is such an exciting time to be a journalist.”