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Mark Whitaker Leaving CNN

CNN executive VP and managing editor Mark Whitaker is leaving the network, multiple people familiar with the decision tell TVNewser.

Whitaker joined CNN two years ago and was the first person to fill the EVP/managing editor position. In that role, he shaped CNN Worldwide’s editorial content, including the “overall approach, tone and direction of CNN’s reporting,” the network said at the time. Now, CNN says it is eliminating the managing editor position.

He also occasionally went hands-on with programming, as with Soledad O’Brien‘s “Starting Point” morning show. Whitaker oversaw the development of the show, which has failed to jump-start CNN in the mornings. CNN is planning to revamp its morning lineup, potentially with ABC anchor Chris Cuomo.

Whitaker departs right as his old boss Jeff Zucker enters CNN. Zucker will be leading CNN’s editorial direction going forward.

Update: In a memo to staff obtained by TVNewser, Whitaker cites Zucker’s arrivial as the impetus behind the decision to leave.

[With] Jeff Zucker’s arrival, we have a new leader with his own forceful ideas about where to take CNN’s reporting, programming and brand. For him to succeed, I believe he deserves his own team and management structure and the freedom to communicate one clear vision to the staff. I have shared that conclusion with him and he has agreed to let me step down as Managing Editor and move on from CNN.

As someone who worked with Jeff at NBC, I know what a bold innovator he is, and I wish him and you all the best as you embark on CNN’s next great adventure.

In a statement, Zucker said:

“I want to thank Mark for his service at CNN. We are grateful for his contributions and wish him the best in the future.”

Whitaker’s full memo, after the jump.

From: Swan, Kate On Behalf Of Whitaker, Mark
Sent: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 8:30 AM
To: *CNN Staff; *CNN International – ALL
Subject: To the Staff

Dear CNN Colleagues:

Two and a half years ago, when Jeff Bewkes, Phil Kent and Jim Walton first approached me about joining CNN in the newly created role of Managing Editor across all our TV and digital platforms, I told them that I would welcome the challenge under three conditions.

The first was that the CNN recommit itself to Ted Turner’s global vision of being the premier destination for news both domestic and international. I am proud that since I took the job, we have made good on that goal. From Election Day 2012 to our recent coverage of Superstorm Sandy and the Newtown school massacre, we have remained the network that Americans turn to when news matters most. On the international front, we have done groundbreaking reporting on everything from the Arab Spring and the uprising in Syria to the Japanese tsunami and the financial crisis in Europe. In 2011 that coverage brought us the best ratings we had had in years, and in 2012 it won us a record number of awards, including two Emmys, three Peabodys and four Eppys for our digital coverage.

The second condition was that we do more to drive editorial integration between CNN.com and our TV networks. I am gratified by the progress we have made in this area, from our weekly In Depth offerings to the inspiring CNN Heroes collaboration to the growth of CNN Money, iReport, Belief Blog, In America and other digital franchises. As our formidable traffic numbers attest, CNN’s future as a go-to destination for news online and across today’s new mobile and social media platforms looks very bright.

The third condition was that we make CNN a leader in diversity in its broadest sense—in the backgrounds of our on- and off-air talent, but also in the range of their experience and points of view. As Executive Vice President in charge of program and talent development, I was thrilled to attract Amy Entelis, Vinnie Malhotra and Ramon Escobar to CNN and to work with them to recruit journalists like Jake Tapper, John Berman and Miguel Marquez, contributors like Margaret Hoover, Van Jones, Ross Douthat, Charles Blow, Ron Brownstein and Ryan Lizza, and specialists like ESPN sports reporter Rachel Nichols.

On the programming front, my team has created the exciting new CNN Films franchise for distinguished documentaries and brought Anthony Bourdain and Morgan Spurlock to CNN to launch signature shows that will expand our scope of storytelling.

Now, with Jeff Zucker’s arrival, we have a new leader with his own forceful ideas about where to take CNN’s reporting, programming and brand. For him to succeed, I believe he deserves his own team and management structure and the freedom to communicate one clear vision to the staff. I have shared that conclusion with him and he has agreed to let me step down as Managing Editor and move on from CNN.

As someone who worked with Jeff at NBC, I know what a bold innovator he is, and I wish him and you all the best as you embark on CNN’s next great adventure.

Good luck and thanks for everything,
Mark

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