"We can afford more people on our air and off our air. So, goddamn it, we’re going to have more people."
-- CNN US President Jon Klein
At the risk of once again incurring the wrath of my new BFF, the amusingly unhinged "CNNfan," there's an article in the latest edition of the New York Observer that's really worth taking a look at.
It deals with CNN -- specifically the "Nothing Succeeds Like Excess" mentality the network adopted with respect to its election coverage and the amount of money it had to spend to make it a reality.
Observer columnist Felix Gillette (who, in the interest of full disclosure, wrote a profile on me back in February of this year) chronicles the inordinate number of sponsored debates, the celeb-graced parties, the mobile control rooms, the expensive A-list pundits, the SkyCams, the real-time focus group meters, the risky new show launches and, of course, the pretend holograms -- all of which cost CNN a small fortune.
Gillette talked to network president Jon Klein, who I have no doubt was doing his best used-car-salesman-on-crank routine at the time. Gillette writes:
"'When you have the wind at your back in the form of a very profitable streak, then you’ve got the wherewithal to try things, to embrace innovation, to not cringe,' Mr. Klein told The Observer on Monday morning.
If it had taken place, say, 20 years ago, the spectacle of CNN’s 2008 shopping spree might have blended into the cacophonous jangle of a city awash in media companies awash in cash. But these days, everywhere you turn, the once reliable bon vivant institutions of New York journalism look tired, anxious and ready for bed. ABC News recently relegated its executives to 'B-level' hotels. This year, for the first time since the dawn of the printed word, Condé Nast is forgoing its holiday party at the Four Seasons. Cash bars are in.
All of which makes CNN’s current swagger, from its battery of technology to its cornucopia of talking heads, seem that much more freakish—the aberrance of opulence in the leanest of times."
What's interesting about all this though -- about Klein's bravado in the face of harsh economic times -- is what's not in article.
Last week I got an e-mail from a close friend of mine, one of my former co-workers at CNN, informing me that he was among a group of CNN employees who'd just been laid off -- reportedly, eight people on the American Morning staff. The official word is that the layoffs are the result of restructuring and not a product of budget cuts -- but that's tough not to question when standard operating procedure at CNN is to find new positions within the company for employees to move to should their old ones become obsolete.
A new baby boy, a treacherous job market, the holiday season looming, and now this: out of a job. It's not as if my former co-worker fell into the bottom performance percentile among his peers at CNN, either. On the contrary, he was quite good at what he did. Still, he now joins the growing list of people cut loose from jobs in the media over the past couple of months. Almost a dozen personal friends of mine have been let go from one media position or another and are now looking for work.
Meanwhile Jon Klein's throwing parties and tossing around money like he's Diddy.
In this unsettling economic climate, somebody will have to either pay outright for CNN's magical regenerating checkbook or simply hedge the network's bet. Either way, it obviously won't be Klein.
As we all know by now, it's rarely the people at the top who suffer.
The New York Observer: "The Corpulent News Network" by Felix Gillette/11.18.08
(Incidentally, when you click the link to read the article, make sure to check the address bar at the top of the screen. No idea whether that was an accident, the working title of the piece, or just a really subversive little joke -- regardless it's hilarious.)