UPDATE 1-CNN begins overhaul, top editor Whitaker leaves
By Liana B. Baker
Jan 29 (Reuters) - Cable news network CNN began to make long awaited changes on Tuesday, announcing the departure of its managing editor Mark Whitaker along with three political contributors.
The moves come two months after Time Warner Inc-owned CNN tapped Jeff Zucker, the former CEO of NBC Universal, to be the news channel's worldwide chief. Zucker started his job in January and an overhaul of the network was expected under his watch.
CNN has been struggling with poor ratings, with its prime-time numbers hitting historical lows last year, and losing out to both Fox News and MSNBC.
In a memo to CNN staff, the outgoing editor Whitaker, said that Zucker "deserves his own team and management structure and the freedom to communicate one clear vision to the staff."
Among some of the changes to on-camera talent, the network announced on Tuesday that Chris Cuomo, a former news anchor on ABC's "Good Morning America" and "20/20," will have a "major role" in a new morning show on CNN.
CNN said it is "discussing various options" with Soledad O'Brien, the current host of CNN's morning show "Starting Point." A spokeswoman called O'Brien "very important to the network," in a statement.
Longtime political contributors and married couple James Carville and Mary Matalin will be also leaving, along with Conservative personality Erick Erickson, a spokeswoman said.
It was previously announced that Jake Tapper, a former chief White House correspondent for ABC will also have a new weekday program on CNN.
Whitaker has been managing editor of CNN since January 2011. He helped attract talent to CNN such as globe-trotting food personality Anthony Bourdain and documentary maker Morgan Spurlock. He previously served as the editor of Newsweek from 1998 to 2006.
Zucker and Whitaker had worked together at NBC, where Whitaker was a senior vice president and Washington bureau chief at NBC News.
Whitaker called Zucker, who moved to CNN earlier this month, a "leader with his own forceful ideas about where to take CNN's reporting, programming and brand."
Since its beginnings as the first 24-hour cable news network, CNN has committed to a nonpartisan approach to programming, a position that some have described as a "view from nowhere" and blamed for the network's ratings erosion.
CNN has lagged Fox and MSNBC in prime-time viewership for more than a year, drawing fewer than 1 million U.S. prime-time viewers compared with about 2.7 million for Fox and about 1.5 million viewers for MSNBC, according to ratings data.