On the same day that a panel of leading female news executives called for greater gender equality, one of their ranks made headlines with her own ouster. CNN dismissed Teya Ryan, EVP and general manager of CNN U.S., on Sept. 15, the same day that the International Women’s Media Foundation called for more strides by women in the news profession and in shaping news coverage. The television executive wasn’t the only high-profile female casualty last week. Ryan was let go the same day that another flag bearer for women — the Women’s United Soccer Association — was terminated for failing to live up to the expectations of the cable industry powerhouses that owned and supported it. WUSA’s investors — Discovery Communications CEO John Hendricks (the league’s founder), Cox, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and retired cable executive Amos Hostetter — pulled the plug on the league at its Sept. 15 board meeting in New York, on the eve of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in the U.S. Like Ryan, WUSA failed to generate ratings or return the investment of its cable backers. The announcements coincided with the kickoff to the cable industry’s annual Diversity Week in New York, although both were cited as bottom-line — not gender-related — business decisions. CNN under Ryan failed to make inroads against the No. 1 cable news network, Fox News Channel. Since Ryan started in February 2002, CNN has fallen 15% in total day and prime-time ratings, while FNC grew 8% in that period. The challenge of bringing (and keeping) viewers falls to Ryan’s replacement, Princell Hair, a broadcast veteran who ran news operations for Viacom’s television stations. “It was pretty clear to me that we needed to bring someone in who had the ability to lead and motivate and manage,” CNN president Jim Walton said in a conference call. “[Ryan’s] passions are in production, and rolling the newsgathering function up into this new role did not seem to be a really good fit.” Prince, he added, is “an accomplished manager, an effective leader and he has had some accomplishment in his past. We have a lot of the same management style.” (One employee not in tune with Walton’s consensus-building mandate: CNN’s top war correspondent Christiane Amanpour, who was invited for a “chat” with her boss after telling Tina Brown on MSNBC that CNN had been “intimidated” by the Bush administration and Fox News during the war in Iraq.) Like CNN, WUSA similarly failed to hang onto or increase its viewers. Its paltry marketing and scattershot television berths, jumping from TNT to Oxygen, ESPN2, local cable and finally PAX, led to miserable ratings and a per-game attendance that fell from an average of 8,116 in its initial 2001 season to 6,650 bums in seats this season. Sadly, that lethal combination also kept corporate sponsors, necessary for its survival, at bay. With female viewers loathe to support women’s sports on television, and with salary cuts and closed franchises already taking place, is the WNBA the next (and final) casualty in women’s sports?

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