Isaacson, whose network has been locked in a fierce ratings competition with News Corp.’s Fox News Channel, announced Monday that he will become president and chief executive of the Aspen Institute, non-profit organization that seeks to engage world leaders in solving global problems, this spring.
As chairman and chief executive of the CNN News Group, Isaacson oversaw CNN’s main domestic network, CNN Headline News, CNN International, CNNfn, CNN/SI, and CNN en Espanol, among other news operations.
The 50-year-old Isaacson will be succeeded by Jim Walton, 44, CNN’s president and chief operating officer with 22 years of experience at the network. Eason Jordan, 42, president of newsgathering and chief news executive, will continue to manage the network’s newsgathering operations.
Isaacson, a former Time managing editor who possessed no previous television experience before stepping into the top post, led CNN’s widely praised coverage of Sept. 11 and its aftermath.
During his 18-month tenure, Isaacson helped create new prime-time programs with anchors Connie Chung and Aaron Brown and brought in former CBS and Fox News Channel anchor Paula Zahn to host a new morning program.
Despite such efforts, Fox News Channel edged ahead of CNN in last year’s ratings battle. Although CNN’s viewership has increased nearly 40 percent since 2000, the network has been unable to regain the ratings lead.
Isaacson told CNN on Monday that Turner Broadcasting chief Jamie Kellner had convinced him to remain at CNN through the late spring or early summer, but he “didn’t want to let this opportunity [at the Aspen Institute] pass.”
“I enjoyed the journalism of [CNN] but I’m not going to be disingenuous here. I don’t think … I really have the absolute feel for television,” Isaacson said.
“I was not particularly adept at managing TV networks,” Isaacson said. “It wasn’t at my fingertips the way being a writer is… I wasn’t planning to leave, but I did know in the back of my mind that I wouldn’t spend my entire career as a television executive because of who I am.”
Isaacson, the author of a biography on former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and currently at work on a book about Benjamin Franklin, described the job at the Aspen Institute as “the perfect match.”
“As those who know me realize, the job … offers the chance to do things I truly love or want to do: writing, exploring ideas, engaging in policy issues, and seeking solutions to social and international problems,” Isaacson said in a memo posted on CNN’s Web site.
“I really love writing. I really love ideas. It’s the type of life I really want for the second phase of my career,” he said.