Paula Zahn will leave CNN, her home of the past six years, Aug. 2 – but she vows to eventually return to the news business.
“I’m taking my first break between TV jobs ever,” Zahn said. “I’m going to catch my breath and take a very thoughtful look at what the next step is.”
She will be off until the end of the year when her contract with CNN expires.
The network confirmed yesterday the poorly kept secret that Campbell Brown will host an hour-long show weeknights at 8 o’clock, the slot currently held by Zahn.
As for Zahn’s future, she’s not sure exactly what she’ll do down the road, but she knows it will be in the news field.
“The business is changing so quickly,” she said. “Some of the jobs that are open today, I would not imagine being open. I’m a newsie – I’m committed to staying in the business.”
There has been speculation for months that Zahn would leave CNN – speculation CNN President Jon Klein refused to address during a conference call with reporters Monday to announce Brown’s hiring.
Zahn said the decision that she would go was made months ago, after she and Klein had many conversations about her contract, which is set to expire at the end of the year.
As a result, she said, she isn’t freaked out by the speculation about her future.
“If you read that, you’re never going to get a show on the air,” she said. “I’ve really stayed focused on being competitive as possibly as we could be in the most competitive time period in all of cable news.”
Could she have stayed?
“The truth is, Jon and I have been talking about this for many, many months, and when we started discussions on what the options would be, I’d done them all in a 30-year career,” Zahn said. “It was best for both of us to move on.”
Zahn is leaving the network after several years trailing in a tough time slot – one that is dominated by Bill O’Reilly on the Fox News Channel. Her show, which of late focused on covering issues in depth, such as race, stood out when compared to the competition, which includes Nancy Grace on Headline News. Zahn averaged 557,000 viewers during the second quarter of the year, compared with 2.2 million for O’Reilly.
“It’s always a challenge to find the right mix of stories,” she said. “Was it a tough thing to accept that when you put on a really hard-hitting hour on race, it was beaten by a double-murder story? Yeah.”
Zahn joined CNN on Sept. 11, 2001, and spent her first day covering the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Since then, there have been four news presidents and many changes in the network’s prime-time lineup.
Before coming to CNN, she worked at Fox News and before that, at CBS.
“I have given this place everything I’ve had – so has my staff,” Zahn said yesterday. “And I think I’m leaving on a very good note.”