Jeff Zucker, CNN’s Longtime Leader, Says He Will Leave at Year’s End

Jeffrey A. Zucker, the president of CNN who reshaped the cable network and America’s news media over the last decade, said during a morning call with CNN staff members on Thursday that he planned to step down at the end of the year, when his contract is up.

“I cannot imagine not being here right now,” Mr. Zucker, 55, said, according to a CNN staff member who was on the call. “I’m going to stay and finish my current contract, which, as I said, will keep me here until the end of this year. At that point, I do expect to move on.”

His decision ends months of speculation over his impending departure but raises questions about the future of CNN. The network thrived during former President Donald J. Trump’s time in office. It went from providing an unfiltered platform for his rallies when he was a candidate in 2015 to devoting its prime time hours to anti-Trump voices during much of his presidency.

Mr. Zucker is leaving on top of a ratings game that was his career-long obsession, but his departure comes amid questions of how CNN’s parent company, AT&T, will steer the cable news channel at a time when Americans increasingly don’t want to pay for cable and streaming services are still unprofitable.

Known as a micromanager, Mr. Zucker had tensions with Jason Kilar, the recently installed chief executive of WarnerMedia, AT&T’s news and entertainment arm. Last year, Mr. Kilar stripped Mr. Zucker of several responsibilities, including his oversight of the human resources and public relations teams.

Mr. Zucker engendered intense loyalty among his staff. “He’s the best boss I ever had, and it’s not even close,” said the CNN anchor Jake Tapper. “I’m grateful that we get him for another year.”

Friends said Mr. Zucker had been in high spirits in recent weeks, basking in Mr. Kilar’s public praise of him and buoyed by CNN’s high ratings, which smashed a 40-year record for the network in November and beat the competition during the Capitol insurrection.

Mr. Zucker took over CNN in 2013, after a career that included a turn as the executive producer of NBC’s “Today” show when he was in his 20s. He shifted away from NBC News in 2000, becoming the president of NBC Entertainment — a job that first brought him into regular contact with Mr. Trump, then the star of the hit reality show “The Apprentice.”

His rise continued, taking him to chief executive of NBCUniversal. In 2010, he oversaw a debacle: the replacement of Jay Leno, the top-rated host of “The Tonight Show,” with Conan O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien did not last a year in the job, and the network ended up giving its late-night franchise back to Mr. Leno. The blunder contributed to Mr. Zucker’s losing his job at the only network he had ever known.

At CNN, he put his stamp on every element of the network’s programming and was a frequent voice in the anchors’ ears, suggesting questions for guests.

CNN faces new challenges as it tries to navigate the shift toward programming that comes not through cable television, but directly to consumers through smartphones or devices like Roku and Chromecast.

It will also have to remake itself for news cycles without the constant adversarial presence of Mr. Trump, who often denigrated the network as “fake news.” The former president publicly clashed with CNN’s White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, calling him “a rude, terrible person” and barring him from the White House grounds in 2018. The network won a lawsuit against Mr. Trump and members of his administration, and Mr. Acosta’s White House press credentials were restored.

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