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New CNN boss has a message for staffers: Cool it with the ‘Breaking News’ banner

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Executive producer Chris Licht of the television show Our Cartoon President speaks onstage during the CBS/Showtime portion of the 2018 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on January 6, 2018 in Pasadena, California.
Frederick M. Brown | Getty Images

New CNN chief Chris Licht has a message for his employees: not everything needs to be labeled “Breaking News.”

In recent weeks, Licht, who officially started as CNN’s new boss on May 2, has held meetings with employees to solicit feedback about when and how the network uses its “Breaking News” banner, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because the discussions were private.

Licht came to the conclusion there should be parameters around when to use the red chyron and asked TV producer Sam Feist to lead a team creating specific guidelines for its use.

“This is a great starting point to try to make ‘Breaking News’ mean something BIG is happening,” Licht wrote in the memo, which CNBC has obtained. “We are truth-tellers, focused on informing, not alarming our viewers. You’ve already seen far less of the ‘Breaking News’ banner across our programming. The tenor of our voice holistically has to reflect that.”

Licht’s decision– the first significant programming alteration he’s made — is indicative of a broader strategy supported by Warner Bros. Discovery Chief Executive Officer David Zaslav and board member John Malone, who both publicly said CNN should emphasize journalism over sensationalism.

“I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with,” Malone told CNBC in November.

Zaslav said in April that CNN’s measured take on news is essential for “a civilized society” and crucial for it to avoid the image of being an “advocacy” network.

Organizational changes

Licht also told employees he plans to craft a new organizational structure at CNN but will “make decisions slower than some would like” given the changes the company has already undergone over the last four months.

Former CNN leader Jeff Zucker abruptly departed in February after disclosing a relationship with Chief Marketing Officer Allison Gollust, who also left the company. WarnerMedia then merged with Discovery in April, prompting the swift elimination of streaming service CNN+ and its leader, Andrew Morse.

CNN digital editorial chief Meredith Artley announced her departure last month. She will be replaced by Marcus Mabry, who has been senior vice president of CNN Digital’s content strategy and global programming, on an interim basis, Licht wrote in the memo.

“I know this organization has been through tremendous change,” said Licht. “I am approaching this process slowly and thoughtfully as we look at all parts of the operation. We will realign where it makes sense to best serve our people and the business.”

Licht also announced a new beat, “Guns in America,” that CNN will roll out in the near future.

WATCH: CNBC’s full interview with Liberty Media Chairman John Malone

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