CNN cuts sales staff

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AOL Time Warner's CNN unit laid off 29 staffers and closed its interactive-sales arm.

Employees affected worked mostly in CNN's New York sales office, though some were based in regional outposts. Remaining staff members in the operation have been reassigned within CNN, while sales for the division-which includes sites cnn.com, cnnfn.com and cnnsi.com-have been melded into the TV and cross-platform sales operations.

All AOL Time Warner units are under pressure to deliver ambitious profit and loss figures for the year as the conglomerate looks to justify its merger to Wall Street and the layoffs may have been a move to remain on target at CNN, where competition from Fox News Channel has intensified amid the overall faltering of the TV ad market. The decision on the layoffs was made by Larry Goodman, CNN-president-sales and marketing, not top AOL-Time Warner corporate management, said a spokesman for the company's Turner Broadcasting System division, which includes CNN.

"It was self-initiated," spokesman Mark Harrad said. "It wasn't anything that was part of a corporate mandate or anything companywide."

Instead, it was a response to the marketplace where the dissolution of separate online buying units at ad agencies led CNN to believe it had less of a need for the specialized sales force, Mr. Harrad said. "You always try to reflect your clients in how you structure your sales staff," he said.

AOL Time Warner has shown it will trim staff to boost the bottom line. Shortly after the merger, the company laid off 2,000 employees, including 400 at CNN.

The merging of Internet sales into the TV and multiplatform pitching forces could mean CNN's Web sites will drop further down the food chain in terms of emphasis at the network and resulting client interest. Of course, CNN's location inside AOL Time Warner leaves open the possibility that the America Online unit could be used to bolster the CNN online operations.

Certainly generating consumer interest has not been a negative at CNN Interactive. Unlike some Web sites that have failed to generate traffic successfully, cnn.com has something to crow about-its 9.1 million unique visitors in May, according to Jupiter/Media Metrix, which placed it second behind MSNBC's 9.6 million in the news category.

Mr. Harrad said online sales remain healthy at CNN. Half of all upfront deals made last year included an online component, he said. Of course, online aspects are routinely small pieces of sprawling deals.

After adding staff at rapid rates in recent years, giant media companies are fast scaling back their Internet operations. News Corp., General Electric Co. and Walt Disney Co. have all closed Internet units and laid off scores of people this year.

Last week, CNN lost one more job: CNN News Group chairman-CEO Tom Johnson, 59, anounced he was leaving after 11 years.

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