Turner Broadcasting head Jamie Kellner likes to call CNN the Cadillac of news organizations, but the network's new chairman, Walter Isaacson, wants to transform CNN into a Porsche.
Less than a week on the job, Isaacson is busy debunking claims that he has inherited a floundering network. The way he sees it, CNN is on an upswing, having recruited high-profile talent and rediscovering its journalistic roots.
"CNN is the most credible, trusted name in news," Isaacson told television critics assembled in Pasadena, Calif., where he and Kellner held their first press conference in their new positions. "We have to go back to having a belief in our mission, but let's also make it fast, fascinating and fun," he said.
Isaacson wants CNN to spice up its presentation and storytelling.
"It's easy to run a magazine or a news network when 200,000 troops are being landed on a beach somewhere," Isaacson noted. "When there's not a war, you have to work harder to cover what people will be talking about."
Isaacson replaces CNN Chairman Tom Johnson, who resigned about two weeks ago. Isaacson spent more than 20 years at Time
magazine and brings a print sensibility to CNN.
CNN has lost ratings ground to Fox News Channel. But CNN executives claim they aren't interested in competing with Rupert Murdoch's "shouting-match–style" channel.
"I want smart people telling interesting tales, not people whose natural instinct is to give you their opinions," he explained.
Isaacson's first priority is developing a prime time newscast, which will be anchored by Aaron Brown, who was recently lured from ABC. The hour-long program, which should debut in October, will most likely air between 8 and 10 p.m., going head-to-head with either MSNBC's The News With Brian Williams
or popular broadcast dramas.
Also at the critics' tour, CNN unveiled the overhaul of Headline News network. When it relaunches on Aug. 6, Headline
News will look a lot like Bloomberg TV or nba.comTV, featuring a multi-element screen.
"We're changing everything but the name," Headline News General Manager Teya Ryan told TV critics. "People want more information, and they can absorb more; that was the inspiration for the changes."
Headline News' new screen is split into two sections, with video and headlines on top and weather, travel advisories and stock information on the bottom. Another big change is multiple anchors: Between four and six correspondents will sit around a circular newsdesk with cameras bouncing among them every 15 minutes. The main talent includes Miles O'Brien and former NYPD Blue-actress-turned-newswoman Andrea Thompson.
"Most people have referred to CNN as stodgy and old-fashioned," Kellner said. "I'm delighted to hear that people are afraid of how far we've moved."