Jon Klein Exits After 6 Years as CNN President

Will be replaced by a pair of execs: Ken Jautz and a yet-to-be-hired managing editor

(Also read: "CNN's New Chief Ken Jautz: We Need to Be More Engaged.")

Jon Klein is out at CNN after serving as the cable network’s president for six years — with the last few marked by slumping ratings for its signature shows and primetime stars. 

Klein will be replaced by a pair of execs: Ken Jautz and a yet-to-be-hired managing editor.  

Jautz was previously the executive vice president of CNN Worldwide where he oversaw group administration and operations at CNN's Headline News Network. CNN's chief marketing officer Scott Safon will be take over for Jautz at Headline News.

CNN Worldwide president Jim Walton made the announcement on Friday in a memo to CNN’s staff.

"Jon’s six years as head of CNN/U.S. are reflected in the quality of our coverage of signal news events during his tenure: the tsunami in South Asia, Hurricane Katrina, the 2008 election cycle and the Haiti earthquake, as well as shows like Anderson Cooper 360, The Situation Room and Fareed Zakaria GPS, all of which bear his imprint," Walton wrote in the memo. "Jon has made important contributions to the CNN story, and he leaves with our respect and friendship, and with my sincere thanks.

CNN’s ratings plummeted the last few years under Klein — particularly in primetime. Larry King lost more than 40 percent of his total viewers during the first half of 2010. CNN’s total primetime viewer average (594,000) plummeted 31 percent during the second quarter, 28 percent in the key 25-to-54-year-old demographic. Anderson Cooper’s ratings fell 28 percent in total viewers and 25 percent in the demo during that time.

But ratings for HLN, which had been flat for nearly a decade, improved dramatically under Jautz’s watch. In 2009, HLN was the only cable news network to gain marketshare other than Fox News. And the success has continued this year. “The Joy Behar Show,” for example, had biggest bump of any primetime show among total viewers (up 39 percent) during the second quarter. During that period, HLN was parked in fourth in primetime in both average total viewers (487,000) and 25-to-54-year-olds (158,000), but not far behind third place CNN.

Klein, who had long resisted the rising tide of “partisan” news programming of his cable rivals, took a bit of a left turn this summer — hiring a pair of ideological sparring partners (Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York, and Kathleen Parker, the conservative columnist) for a new primetime show at 8 p.m. A week later, Larry King announced he would leave CNN after 25 years as the host of "Larry King Live," a show that saw its ratings slide more than 40 percent during the first half of the year. Klein and co. replaced King with Piers Morgan.

But why replace Klein now, without seeing the how his new lineup fares?

"It was important to make these moves before we launched the new programs," Walton said during a conference call. He said that the change was made now "so there was no seeming dissatisfaction with the [new] shows on the air."

When asked whether or not Klein had been fired, Walton said he did not want to get into the discussions he had with Klein. Walton did say the decision was made earlier this week.

"I don't see doom and gloom," Walton said of the network's primetime struggles, noting that the network as a whole has experienced "tremendous" growth and seven consecutive years of profitability. Still, he said, "the ratings clearly need to get better."

As of this writing, Klein has not responded to a request for comment.

Here's Walton full memo on the personnel changes — as you'll see, he kind of buried the lead:

To: CNN Staff
From: Jim Walton

I have some news to share with you about our executive leadership and how our programming teams are going to work together to ensure we’re prominently featuring CNN’s quality journalism across our multiple platforms. Two accomplished CNN executives whom most of you know and have worked with are stepping up to new roles, effective immediately. A third senior leader will be brought on in the role of managing editor to help leverage our newsgathering resources across multiple platforms in a more collaborative way.

Ken Jautz is moving from HLN to CNN/U.S. to run the network as its executive vice president. Ken is a rarity—a working journalist who is an even better news executive. The reinvention of HLN is the latest in a string of successes he has led at CNN. Ken has launched, made profitable and turned around businesses for our news organization, Turner Broadcasting and Time Warner literally around the world. To his new assignment he brings deep experience as a reporter, both overseas and in the US; a CNN-wide perspective; and relationships from multiple positions within Turner. Most importantly, he has a demonstrated ability to collaborate and lead strong teams, and a track-record of programming successes.

Scot Safon assumes the executive vice president role at HLN and will run the network. Scot and HLN are in my view an inspired combination. He is an innovator; HLN is an ideal news and information laboratory. He is an expert in audience targeting and development; HLN’s audience is young, engaged and growing. And he is a charismatic leader who is passionate about journalism, storytelling and our brand. As Chief Marketing Officer of CNN Worldwide, Scot has led a dynamic team that has done award-winning marketing, advertising and promotion for CNN, HLN, CNN International and CNN.com.

Additionally, to put our multi-platform advantages more fully to work, we will be naming an executive vice president and managing editor of CNN Worldwide to lead collaboration across all platforms and elevate CNN’s unique journalism and analysis. A managing editor, with full access to our journalism resources and my mandate to shape and connect our newsgathering across networks, shows, and websites, is a new role for the organization. Ultimately, the goal is that the kind of front-page reporting and analysis that captures a news event, translates its meaning and shapes the dialogue about the story will continue to emerge in even more prominent and more accessible ways to CNN’s audiences. The search for this person is currently underway.

Our colleague Jon Klein is leaving CNN. Jon’s six years as head of CNN/U.S. are reflected in the quality of our coverage of signal news events during his tenure: the tsunami in South Asia, Hurricane Katrina, the 2008 election cycle and the Haiti earthquake, as well as shows like Anderson Cooper 360, The Situation Room and Fareed Zakaria GPS, all of which bear his imprint. Jon has made important contributions to the CNN story, and he leaves with our respect and friendship, and with my sincere thanks.

We are going into a busy fall and winter with November elections and two new prime time shows on CNN. Ken, Scot and the new managing editor will impact these and all of the other events ahead, as will you. My expectation is that our leaders and our new operating discipline will put CNN’s advantages to work where they matter most: for our audience. Our coverage will be relevant and resonant; will have meaning for millions of people around the world; and it will reflect the qualities that CNN is rightfully famous for: commitment to truth, respect for facts, service to no political agenda and passion for journalism and analysis done right and well.