America’s Cable News Network (CNN) holds several records. When it was established by Ted Turner and Reese Schonfeld in 1980, it was the first all-news channel in the United States. It was also the first to deliver 24-hour news coverage in the world (Source). It would have been expected that when the broadcaster decided to introduce CNNfn (its financial news network), the new venture would take advantage of the traction already gained by the main network. However, this wasn’t the case.
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CNNfn.com was the website for the now-shuttered CNNfn. Established at a time when business news was in demand, CNNfn competed with the likes of CNBC. A few years after CNNfn was established, the Internet bubble on Wall Street, created by an over-confidence in companies connected to the Internet, burst. This sent the fortunes of entities like CNNfn into a tailspin.
Failing to gain traction, the executives at CNNfn decided that it would be better to cut their losses. They announced that they would pull the plug on the financial news network a year before it turned ten.
In this article, we follow the history of CNNfn to determine what happened to the financial news network. We look at some of the tensions that led to some executives leaving. The article will also provide a summary of some of the leading programs CNNfn broadcast during its lifetime.
The History of CNNfn.com
CNNfn.com was established in 1995 by AOL Time Warner. Lou Dobbs oversaw the launch of the network. Before establishing the channel, Dobbs worked at CNN as a reporter and the network’s vice president. Additionally, he served as a managing editor of Moneyline, a CNN business program that premiered in 1980 (Source).
It’s not unusual for people, who are supposed to present the news, to end up being the news themselves. CNNfn was no stranger to controversy. A few examples show that the network was a theatre for a power play of sorts that would end up in the news. We look at a few of the incidents below.
In July 1999, Dobbs gave a surprising announcement that he would be leaving CNNfn.com to start Space.com. Space.com was a website devoted to space news for different demographics (Source).
Even though the official announcement did not indicate any tensions, Howard Kurtz and Lisa de Moraes wrote an article for The Washington Post, indicating that there was more to the resignation than met the eye. They allege that Dobbs’ resignation was greatly influenced by the tension between him and CNN executives in Atlanta, especially the CNN/USA President, Rick Kaplan.
According to Kurtz and Moraes, the hostility was palpable at one time when Dobbs stopped a live broadcast speech by the then American President in Littleton, Colorado and returned to regular programming. Dobbs then informed the viewers, quite tersely, “CNN President Rick Kaplan wants us to return to Littleton” (Source).
Dobbs maintained that he didn’t quit CNN because of the tension between him and the other network’s executives. However, he claimed that the decision came with some pain considering the efforts he had invested in the company (Source).
Executive Vice President at Financial News UnitDismissed
Following Dobbs’ departure, David Bohrman, the executive vice president of the CNNfn network, was fired. The dismissal happened after a power struggle over who would be a perfect replacement for Dobbs. Insiders at CNN and CNNfn are reported to have indicated that Bohrman was considered to be closer to Dobbs (Source).
Asked about the reasons behind Bohrman’s dismissal, Steve Korn, the vice-chairman and chief operating officer of CNN News Group, preferred to leave Dobbs’ name out of his explanation. He said, “We were unable to reach an understanding with David with respect to the way duties related to the new business news programming would be handled” (Source).
Dobbs’ Returns and Then Exits
In August 2000, Kaplan exited CNN. In an exciting turn of events, Dobbs returned the following year and became the host and managing editor of Lou Dobbs Reporting, which later became CNN News Sunday Morning. Additionally, he anchored Lou Dobbs Moneyline, which was later renamed Lou Dobbs Tonight in June 2003 (Source).
In November 2009, Dobbs announced that he would be exiting the network, citing plans to pursue new opportunities. However, others speculated that he was preparing to run for president (Source). His departure marked an end to nearly thirty years of service at CNN.
Writing for the New York Times in 2009, Brian Stelter and Bill Carter reported that the departure may have been due to tensions at CNN. They report that Jonathan Klein, the president of CNN/USA at that time, had “offered a choice to Lou Dobbs, the channel’s most outspoken anchor. Mr. Dobbs could vent his opinions on radio, and anchor an objective newscast on television, or he could leave CNN” (Source).
Programs That Aired on CNNfn
CNNfn.com struggled to gain traction for most of its lifetime. However, some of its programs like Open House, Dolans Unscripted, Moneyline, and The Biz became relatively popular. We look at some of these programs below:
No business television program that wants to succeed can ignore the subject of property, and the executives at CNNfn knew this. The Open House program producer, Peter Tedeschi, is quoted in The New York Times, saying that the program looked at real estate issues to help people make informed choices.
Tedeschi indicated that the show was driven by the objective of answering several vital questions:
- How much money does it cost?
- How much time will it take?
- How much is it worth to you?
- When is it worth it?
An analysis of these questions shows that the show had a bias towards personal finance in relation to real estate.
The show also featured guides on finding the right contractors, making a house ready for the market, designing advertisements when selling a property, and buying foreclosure properties. Viewers could also call in and ask real estate-related questions (Source).
In 2003, Ken Jautz, the executive vice president of CNN’s business news operations, introduced Ken and Daria Dolan. They are a married couple and both are talk show radio hosts. They were coming to CNNfn to host a new show called Dolans Unscripted (Source)
According to CNN, the program was about “the day’s news from a money perspective, providing viewers with a fast, free-wheeling dialogue about pocket-book issues pegged to the news of the day” (Source).
Accepting the job, the Dolans said that they were delighted to launch the show on CNNfn. To the viewers, they promised “direct, no-nonsense information on the business of life.” Adding, “The program is designed to present a different angle on the untold and under-told stories affecting viewers’ lives so they can survive and thrive in any economy” (Source).
Moneyline with Lou Dobbs
Originally just called Moneyline, the program changed in June 1998 and took the name Moneyline News Hour with Lou Dobbs. Its schedule expanded for 30 minutes to start from 6:30a.m. and end at 7:30a.m. Eastern Time on CNN, CNNfn, and CNN International (Source).
CNN described Moneyline with Lou Dobbs as a “roundup of the day’s most important events in business and finance.” Following the 1998 changes, the program would offer extensive business news coverage and general news events analysis (Source).
According to CNNMoney, apart from providing a roundup of the day’s international business, economic, and financial news, the program provided “a summary of the day’s international business, economic and financial news, with details of major market performers and analysis of market trends,” it also featured the leading news in entertainment, politics, and sports (Source).
After the departure of Dobbs in 1999, journalists Stuart Varney and Willow Bay were named the show’s co-anchors. Varney had worked for CNN for 18 years, and Bay had worked as the co-anchor at ABC News’ Good Morning America/Sunday (Source).
In a 2000 article for the public relations and communications publication, PRWeek.com, David Rovella says, “CNNfn’s entertainment-industry show has always been about the lighter side of business.” In the same article, Rovella reports that the program covered mostly “music, entertainment, advertising and the Web” (Source).
Becoming CNN Money
In February 2001, the struggling CNNfn announced that it would be changing its name to CNN Money. In an article written for The New York Times, Jim Rutenberg reports that the executives at CNN said that the “new name and the other changes symbolize how AOL Time Warner intends to extract more synergies from its media properties than even Time Warner did” (Source).
CNNfn Shuts Down
In 2004, CNN announced that it would be shutting down its CNNfn cable program. Maybe CNNfn.com started at the wrong time as the Internet bubble was unrevealing, resulting in the enterprise failing to scale. A statement by Jim Walton’s (CNN News Group president) reported, “The growth has not come at the rate many of us had anticipated” (Source).
What Then Happened to CNNfn.com?
It is clear that if CNNfn could not continue, its website, CNNFN.com, would not be useful. After rebranding to CNN Money in 2001, CNNfn.com started redirecting to a new website. This redirect seems to have worked for several years until around March 2020 when it broke, signaling the website’s end.