A Wall Street Journal article examining the quick decline of CNN+ – which launched on March 29 and ceased operations on April 27 – reports that several former employees received these welcome gifts, which included ink pens, headphones and popcorn makers.
All of the merchandise bore the logo of CNN+, and some of them contained welcome messages, with one unnamed former employee saying they received a message reading: ‘This is an incredible time to be part of CNN.’
It continued to advise the now laid-off employee to ‘Build relationships and take time to connect with colleagues, and learn so that you make the most of your time here.’
In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, CNN executives acknowledged that it did send out these welcome boxes, but called it a ‘mistake.’
It remains unclear how many former employees received the boxes, but the company had hired 300 people for the streaming service, which the company had spent $300 million on, in addition to another $100 million to $200 million for advertising.
CNN+ had promised to be a new frontier in the news business, offering original programming separate from what the company airs on its news channel.
One top producer even went as far to call the streaming service CNN’s Apollo Mission – comparing it to the successful moon landing, the Wall Street Journal reports, and network recruiters told potential hires it was prepared to spend $1 billion over four years on the endeavor.
It had drawn some major talent, including former Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt, actress Eva Longoria, and chef Alison Roman.
But after David Zaslav, the new CEO of the Discovery and Time Warner merger, learned that the $5.99 a month service signed up roughly 150,000 subscribers in its first few weeks – and was only being streamed by 5,000 to 10,000 people at any given moment – he decided to pull the plug.
By April 21, CNN’s new CEO Chris Licht told staff that CNN+ was ending.
Sara Sidner, who moved from LA to New York to host a CNN+ show, said the decision to end it so soon was ‘mind-blowing’
Staff members were reportedly left ‘aghast and furious’ at the decision to cease operations after only three weeks, describing it as an ‘absolute debacle,’ with one veteran staffer telling The Washington Post: ‘We expected them to cut off a few fingers, not the entire arm.’
After his speech, according to The Washington Post, Sara Sidner, a long-serving CNN correspondent who moved from Los Angeles to New York to host a CNN Plus show, stood up and told the shocked crowd: ‘This is mind-blowing, to be perfectly honest.’
She later tweeted: ‘It’s over. It’s been the shortest most amazing ride #CNNPlus team.’
Hunt, reportedly enticed to leave MSNBC with a $1 million contract, tweeted: ‘The journalists I have been privileged to work with on CNN Plus are world class.
‘I am so incredibly proud to be able to call them colleagues.
‘If your organization would like a chance to benefit from their talents, my DMs are open
‘This is *my* job for the foreseeable future.
She added: ‘(Some of you are asking about me. I am proud to be on team CNN. I will be fine. It’s not about me right now.)’
The company had promised to provide positions for the staff members it laid off with positions elsewhere in the company, and those who were not placed in other positions, the Journal reports, will get six months severance pay as long as they do not leave the company within 90 days.
It also kept some of its major talent though, including Wallace, whom it reportedly promised $9 million per year, according to The New York Post.
He is now thought likely to take over the 9 p.m. slot on CNN left vacant after the firing of Chris Cuomo in December.
The demise of CNN+ came after a difficult year for the news network.
In April, then-CEO Jeff Zucker stepped down from his position at CNN amid an investigation into his decades-long relationship with Allison Gollust, 49, who worked as CNN’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer.
TIMELINE OF ZUCKER AND GOLLUST’S OPEN SECRET’ ROMANCE
1986: Zucker hired as an Olympics researcher for NBC
1989: Zucker starts working as producer on Today
2003: Zucker promoted to head of news, cable and entertainment at NBC
2005: Zucker becomes head of NBC Universal, new umbrella brand
2007: Zucker becomes President and CEO of NBC Universal
2010: Zucker leaves NBC, taking a package of between $30m-$40m dollars
2011: Zucker joins Katie Couric as producer on her ABC show
2012: Zucker joins CNN
2018: Zucker and his wife Caryn split
2021: Zucker announces plans to leave the company at the end of the year. He then said he would stay on until TimeWarner’s deal with Discovery was complete
Their affair reportedly stretches back to when they both worked at NBC in the late 1990s. Zucker worked at the network from 1986 to 2010, becoming executive producer of the TODAY show, then head of NBC Entertainment before becoming president and CEO of NBC Universal.
The relationship finally came to light after former anchor Chris Cuomo was fired from his position after he helped his brother deal with the sexual assault allegations against him.
As Chris Cuomo was fighting for his $18 million severance pay, he decided to publicize the long-term affair in retribution for Zucker claiming that he cannot get a payout because his conduct brought the network into disrepute.
In the aftermath, Zucker announced he was stepping down from his role at the company, saying: ‘I acknowledged the relationship evolved in recent years. I was required to disclose it when it began but I didn’t. I was wrong.’
As many at CNN speculated over what could have caused the sudden departure, Deadline reported, Time Warner CEO Jason Kilar wrote in a letter that, following a third-party investigation into the claims, ‘I strongly believe we have taken the right actions and the right decisions have been made.’
But Gollust, who resigned two weeks later, argued that what transpired was an attempt to retaliate against her ‘and change the media narrative in the wake of their disastrous handling of the last two weeks.’
She wrote in her resignation letter: ‘It is deeply disappointing that after spending the past nine years defending and upholding CNN’s highest standards of journalistic integrity, I would be treated this way as I leave.
‘But I do so with my head held high, knowing that I gave my heart and soul to working with the finest journalists in the world.’
The two then reportedly hired a crisis communications representative, who denied that they were not forthcoming with the investigation, and an attorney Patricia Glaser, of Glaser Weil, also reportedly wrote a note to WarnerMedia, warning executives that Kilar’s characterization about how everything transpired was almost defamatory.
He weighed a lawsuit against the executives, Deadline reports, but decided not to amid bad publicity since his departure.
He also reportedly considered the fact that as David Zaslav, the CEO of Discovery, prepared for the merger of WarnerMedia and Discovery, there was a risk that a legal discovery could unearth some unwanted baggage, and decided to take the money instead.
Zucker was later replaced by Chris Licht, who has said he wants the focus of the news channel to be on ‘straightforward facts’ and ‘insightful commentary.’
He wrote in a memo to staff earlier this month: ‘I think we can be a beacon in regaining that trust by being an organization that exemplifies the best characteristics of journalism: fearlessly speaking truth to power, challenging the status quo, questioning ‘group-think’ and educating viewers and readers with straightforward facts and insightful commentary, while always being respectful of differing viewpoints.’
The 50-year-old continued: ‘First and foremost, we should, and we will be advocates for the truth.’
An insider also told DailyMail.com Licht’s influence will be steering the network into the right direction but that there’s still a lot of changes to be done.
‘This is a new day for CNN. Chris will be able to make the important changes that will set our news organization up for success.’
They continued: ‘He’s a good guy and won’t run the organization as a cult of personality like Jeff did.’
The source added improved ratings will follow if the new boss returns the channel to ‘its roots in news gathering.’