CNN chief Jim Walton steps down

Jim Walton. (CNN.com)
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CNN Worldwide president Jim Walton announced Friday that he will step down from his role at the network at the end of the year.

The news was first reported by the Associated Press this morning. CNN followed with a statement saying that Walton's decision to resign "has the support and respect" of Phil Kent, C.E.O. of CNN's parent company, Turner Broadcasting, which is a subsidiary of Time Warner.

"For some time, I’ve been talking with Phil Kent about wanting to make a change," said Walton in a memo to staff announcing the news. "CNN needs new thinking. That starts with a new leader who brings a different perspective, different experiences and a new plan, one who will build on our great foundation and will commit to seeing it through. And I'm ready for a change. I have interests to explore and I want to give myself time to do it."

Walton, who's been with CNN for more than 30 years and has spent 10 at its helm, prepares to make his exit as the network's longtime ratings woes seem to be coming to a head. CNN, a middle-of-the-road offering that was once far and away the leader in cable news, has struggled to attract viewers in recent years while its two main competitors, MSNBC and Fox News, have broadened their audiences by cultivating more partisan brands.

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The ratings troubles have been particularly problematic for CNN in primetime, which is considered the bread and butter of the cable news landscape. Time Warner executives have expressed dissatisfaction with the network's ratings and have been rumored for several months now to be looking for a replacement for Walton.

In his memo, Walton said he would work with company brass on making the transition in leadership. Kent will lead the search for his successor.

"The next few months will be filled with election news and other important events that will require all of our focus to report the news with the quality and expertise the world expects of CNN," said Walton. "I look forward to working alongside each of you, as I have over the past 30-plus years, to do just that."

In a statement distributed by CNN, Kent praised Walton for being "smart and steady, tough and fair, business-savvy," as well as for having a "track record of great judgment," he said. "His vision has modernized and globalized our legacy news brand, enhanced CNN’s journalistic standing, positioned it at the forefront of multi-platform branded news content and challenged the organization to think bigger, reach further and do better."

Time Warner C.E.O. Jeff Bewkes credited Walton with improving the financial outlook for CNN, which derives the majority of its revenues from subscription fees and has a large international footprint and strong digital business beyond its core U.S. daytime and primetime lineup.

"When Jim Walton assumed the presidency of CNN in 2003, it was underperforming and earnings were in serious decline," said Bewkes. "Since then, he and CNN have tripled earnings, doubled margin and delivered annual growth of 15 percent. In his nearly 31 years of uninterrupted and distinguished service to CNN, Jim has been instrumental in growing the business into the financial powerhouse it has become, while establishing the brand as the worldwide leader for television news."

Walton's last day will be Dec. 31.