CNN tech chief leaves — layoffs coming?

Monty Mullig, the head of Web technologies at Time Warner's Turner division, which runs CNN and TBS, among others. Despite CNN's efforts to burnish Mullig's profile by featuring him as a talking head, touting CNN's ability to serve up millions of pageviews in crises like the contested 2000 presidential election and 9/11, you've likely never heard of him. But nonetheless, his departure now is instructive. Turner, you see, is rumored to be planning layoffs in Mullig's department. It may seem odd that Turner, whose CNN.com is a runaway success in online news, would be plotting cuts as everyone else is scrambling to staff up with Web developers. But Mullig, and his long, prolific website-building tenure, may have a lot to do with that.

When Mullig joined Turner in 1994, the company didn't even have a connection to the Internet. Mullig's team had to build Web-page-authoring and video-serving tools from scratch — they simply didn't exist. Technology that worked well 12 years ago, however, is now showing its age, and successful as CNN's techies have been in rolling their own software, it's likely that cheaper, better stuff is available off the shelf, or even on the Web for free in open-source form. CNN's starting to get it, slowly; its Political Ticker blog is one of the most popular sites hosted on WordPress.com.

It's not clear if Mullig was pushed out, left in protest of potential layoffs, or simply felt he'd suffered enough — his company, after all, merged, in swift succession, with Time Warner and then with AOL. But the lesson seems clear: Turner no longer needs to be in the software-development business to have a successful website.