The Problem With CNN

Includes: CMCSA, NWS, TWX
by: Ken Doctor

CNN's ratings slide is beginning to look like the daily newspapers' long circulation slide. The hot cable media -- Fox, especially, and less so MSNBC as well as CNN's own HLN, with its screaming, tabloidy, violence-centered coverage -- all are beating it, and more handily with each ratings period. Maybe its problem is similar to the dailies.

Conventional news, the 24-hour rat-a-tat-tat of he said/she said, which CNN perfected with giantism, offering 10-person panels during the election season, each person starting into a laptop, to look so au courant. You know, five on this side and five on the other. Another kind of fair and balanced, without the benefit of the slogan's buzz.

The issue isn't a new one in journalism, but this particular moment of earthquake-like news business change may be shaking loose the foundations the misguided principles of "objectivity." Literally, in way too many cases, it has become the act of placing a microphone in front of one "side's" advocates, then the other, and calling it journalism. That's as opposed to finding out what the heck is happening in health care, education, budget issues. It's become an unhelpful echo chamber, with many, yet too few, exceptions.

Many analysts, over many years, have pinpointed the issue. I like Dan Gross' recent rant on On the Media. He nails it quickly and to the point, with such statements as: “If you are looking for deep political wisdom from Wolf Blitzer, that’s like fishing for manta rays in the Gowanus Canal.” He calls it the “the culture of stenography” and talks about its toll on the political culture and the democracy.

It's not Wolf, who I hear is a nice guy but is more of a ping-pong match caller than a newsman, at least in his CNN guise. It's the faux modernism of the network, with instant polls that offer heat, but too little light. It's Campbell Brown's top-of-the-show "mash-ups" that adopt the lingo of the web, but offer a quick tour of other conventional wisdoms. It's the too-often, self-referential journalism of Anderson Cooper.

It's an odd, ungainly time in journalism. Lots of new sites being created with new eyes, by veterans and newbies, from Hawaii to Maine, and they show signs of reinventing journalism, not just its business models, but how in fact it's done.

Then, we have the silliness of Fox News -- Roger Ailes as the 21st Century P.T Barnum -- and MSNBC's sometimes smart, sometimes sophomoric efforts to forge a new NBC News+ identity. It's a wild time, but one in which convention, and the conventional ways of doing things, is unlikely to stand.

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