Fox News Faces Unexpected Challenges After Ailes’ Departure

Jim Cooper, ASSOCIATED PRESS Roger Ailes resigned as head of Fox News Thursday. 2006 file photo.
Jim Cooper, ASSOCIATED PRESS Roger Ailes resigned as head of Fox News Thursday. 2006 file photo.

So what does the future hold for Fox News?

Roger Ailes’ reign as its chief executive came to an ignominious halt Thursday in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment from former Fox host Gretchen Carlson and from other women.

On the business side, though, Ailes, 76, is arguably leaving at the top of his game. Ratings at Fox News, a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox, are higher than ever, fueled by its confident mix of coverage of the ascendance of Donald Trump and ceaseless bashing of President Obama. Profits are rolling in, to the tune of more than $1 billion a year. And Ailes’ singular business model of monetizing news – with a thin staff of reporters — is as admired by competitors as it is reviled by critics.

But his departure accelerates the day of reckoning that Fox News and its corporate parent have been pondering for years. To a great extent, Fox News is Roger Ailes – the CEO, the Chairman, Dear Leader, the Editor, the chief talking-point issuer, and if you are to believe Carlson, the lead towel snapper in a metaphorically malodorous locker room. His departure will leave a profoundly glaring vacancy to fill for 21st Century Fox board chairman Rupert Murdoch, and his two sons who are also top executives at the company.

Still, changes at a news organization that generates more than $1 billion in annual profit don’t take place overnight. Unless some of the top TV talent walks out in a huff – as speculated by the Ailes-friendly Drudge Report earlier this week — Fox News will likely remain largely unchanged from its current format in the short run, analysts say. In a statement, Murdoch said Thursday he will assume, effective immediately, the role of chairman and acting CEO of Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network.

“I’d be surprised if we saw a dramatic change in what they’re doing,” says Scott Collins, TV editor at media news site The Wrap and author of Crazy Like a Fox: The Inside Story of How Fox News Beat CNN. “Even if (Fox broadcaster) Bill O’Reilly walked out, the impulse will be reshuffle to patch holes as best as they could.”

But questions about its long-term viability will linger long after Ailes fades from the headlines. Ailes’ discerning eye for talent won’t be available as replacements are recruited for aging stars. And his messaging guidance will be sorely missed as its editorial stance is recalibrated for the coverage of a new president, be it Trump or Hillary Clinton. Fox News’ new leader will also have to contend with a broader set of fundamental challenges that have also stumped competitors – declining TV viewership and competition from online news sources for ad dollars.

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SOURCE: Roger Yu
USA TODAY