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CNN’s New Leaders Try to Move On From Chris Licht’s Stormy Tenure

It began like any other day at CNN. Scores of staff members tuned in the network’s Thursday morning editorial call from New York, Los Angeles, London and far-flung world capitals.

But there was one difference: Chris Licht, who was fired as the network’s chairman on Wednesday, wasn’t on the call.

It was led by Virginia Moseley, one of the three network veterans who have been put in charge of the newsroom, according to several people familiar with her remarks. And it was clear she was trying to turn the page: The call was focused on news coverage, including the Canadian wildfires and the war in Ukraine. Ms. Moseley made no mention of Mr. Licht’s ouster.

Before the meeting, the new leaders of CNN in a memo to employees acknowledged the crisis stemming from Mr. Licht’s final days at the network, and struck an optimistic note about the future. It was signed alphabetically by the first names of its authors: Amy Entelis, executive vice president for talent and content development; David Leavy, CNN’s chief operating officer and a veteran communications adviser; Eric Sherling, executive vice president of U.S. programming; and Ms. Moseley, executive vice president of editorial.

“We understand how disorienting and unsettling it can be when we become the news, and these recent changes can be difficult to navigate, both personally and professionally,” they said, adding, “Now, it’s time for us as the leadership of CNN to meet the moment, as you have done time and again.”

CNN declined to comment.

In interviews, some CNN journalists expressed frustration with the wall-to-wall coverage of the network and Mr. Licht, and they expressed hope it would end soon. (The network’s audience devoured the story: The only mention of Mr. Licht on the morning editorial call was related to CNN’s article on his ouster, which was among the most popular on the network’s digital platforms on Wednesday, according to three people familiar with its readership.)

CNN’s new leaders will have to deal with many challenges that Mr. Licht was in the middle of trying to overcome. The company’s traditional business, which relies mostly on TV advertising and cable fees, is facing long-term decay. Its digital operation is in the middle of an overhaul. It is preparing to cover the 2024 presidential election, a consequential event for the network and its business. And its morning and prime-time programming is still being fine-tuned, leaving crucial slots in CNN’s lineup unfinished.

On some of those fronts, CNN is making progress. The network is considering new anchors to team up with the CNN veteran Poppy Harlow in the morning, including the White House correspondent Phil Mattingly and the correspondent Rahel Solomon, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

Athan Stephanopoulos, whom Mr. Licht hired last year as CNN’s chief digital officer, has laid out a plan to generate $1 billion over the next several years. And the company is hosting a series of town hall forums for presidential contenders, including one next week with former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.

David Zaslav, the chief executive of CNN’s parent company, said on Wednesday that he was looking for a permanent replacement for Mr. Licht. Mr. Zaslav, who had picked Mr. Licht without interviewing other candidates, said he was committed to a recruiting process, even if it took months.

Last week, Mr. Zaslav put Mr. Leavy, one of his longtime top advisers, into the job of chief operating officer at CNN. Hours after Mr. Licht was forced out on Wednesday, Mr. Leavy sought to move on, telling executives in a meeting he had nothing but respect for Mr. Licht and his predecessor, Jeff Zucker.

“The Zucker wars are over,” Mr. Leavy said, according to two people with knowledge of his remarks.

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Mohammad SHiblu

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