CNN Chief Jim Walton Leaves: ‘We Need New Thinking’

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Walton will leave CNN at the end of 2012, amidst complaints that he had not invested in content as competitors gained market share

Jim Walton is stepping down as president of CNN Worldwide at the end of 2012, he told his staff on Friday, with the confessional words: "CNN needs new thinking."

In a memo to the staff the 30-year veteran of the ratings-challenged network wrote:

"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."

He will continue in his current role until the end of the year.

Also read: CNN Posts Worst Quarter in 21 Years

Walton was known for keeping costs down and maintaining a profit at the news network.

But he was not always popular with CNN staff, particularly after the network's recent ratings nosedive. CNN news veterans have long complained that Walton refused to invest in content and griped that he had no plans for reinvigorating the network as competitors gained market share.

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The last straw was the failure of a lineup led by new anchor Erin Burnett (pictured, left) to take hold with audiences, one knowledgeable individual told TheWrap. The ratings for Burnett’s show, "OutFront,"  have been low, and insiders say the show lacks a strong producer team.

Also read: Anderson Cooper to Airline Photog: 'Bitch, What the F— Are You Doing?'

CNN saw its lowest ratings since 1991 in the second quarter of 2012 in both the Monday-Friday and Monday-Sunday categories, according to data from Nielsen Media Research.

During the quarter, CNN averaged just 468,000 total viewers during weekday primetime, with 142,000 viewers in the key 25-54 demographic. For the Monday-Sunday primetime, the picture was even bleaker with CNN averaging 446,000 total viewers and 129,000 in the key demographic.

In his note to staff, Walton also struck a positive note while reflecting on his tenure.

"I am proud of what we have accomplished together over these last 10 years – innovative programming, the development of great talent in front of and behind the cameras, expansion in digital and mobile, significant investment and expansion in international coverage, financial success and, most importantly, great and trusted journalism," Walton wrote.

Walton did not say what his future plans would be beyond noting in a memo to staff that he was "ready for a change" and had "interests to explore."

Here's the complete text of Walton's note:

After more than 30 years at this company and nearly 10 years as the leader of this great news organization, I have decided to leave my role at CNN on December 31, 2012.

For some time, I’ve been talking with Phil Kent about wanting to make a change, and he supports my decision. I’ve told Phil that I will cooperate with any transition timeline that he and Time Warner want to implement.  Phil requested that I work out the year and be available after that if needed, which I’ve agreed to do.

I am proud of what we have accomplished together over these last 10 years – innovative programming, the development of great talent in front of and behind the cameras, expansion in digital and mobile, significant investment and expansion in international coverage, financial success and, most importantly, great and trusted journalism.  Thank you for the role you have played in our successes.

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.

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.  I look forward to working alongside each of you, as I have over the past 30-plus years, to do just that.

Jim