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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How Can CNN Save Itself?

Perhaps the biggest story in journalism at the moment is the virtual collapse of CNN's prime-time ratings.

Once the colossus of cable news, CNN now is getting hammered from the left by MSNBC and from the right by Fox News. We suspect that's not a good thing for the news business--or our democracy--so we hope to see a revival at CNN Center in Atlanta.

But how will it happen? James Poniewozik, in an essay for Time magazine, has the best prescription we've seen.

First, Poniewozik correctly diagnoses the challenge facing CNN. He writes:

Today, with technology making raw news a commodity, the challenge for consumers is sorting out politicized counterclaims on everything from health care to meteorology to security. Viewers want someone to cut through the kicked-up partisan dust. They want to hear, flat out, when someone is full of it. CNN too often gives both sides, then shrugs. A CNN anchor interviewing two party hacks and leaving us to decide who we should believe doesn't cut it.

How to overcome it? Poniewozik has a novel idea: Practice real journalism.

CNN should focus not on both-handedness but on truth. It should let the chips fall where they may, not make sure that the chips, over time, aggregate around the middle. The slogan for my ideal CNN — or any news outlet — would be "The news: whether you like it or not."

Focusing on truth? What a concept! Such an approach probably would be called, by critics, progressive. After all, progressives make a good-faith effort at seeking the truth, while conservatives have pretty much given up on dealing in facts.

CNN, Poniewozik writes, should not care what labels become affixed to it. It should be concerned about serving an audience that is hungry for serious news.

CNN can focus on being the best version of itself for an age of contested reality, combining its still formidable news gathering with informed, impassioned hosts who are dedicated to being more than the self-conscious, nervous, vanilla midpoint between Fox and MSNBC. What should CNN do? My ideal CNN would be one that acts like it doesn't care what anyone thinks it should do.


mattdana said...

I was with Poniewozik until this part: "Would that help CNN's ratings? Probably not." But before that the whole article was about how CNN could save itself. He can't seem to decide whether he's giving CNN advice or just pining for honest news coverage.

Love your blog BTW... long-time reader/lurker.

lj21 said...

Imagine a CNN show where the issues of the day are put on trial using the same setting and rules as a court of law. No talking points or spin, only evidence. No food fights, only order. The FOX and MSNBC viewers would tune into CNN. Each side has an emotional investment in the issue and wants to see the other forced to accept defeat. I think it would be a successful show and perform a much needed public service.

Alan8 said...

I used to watch CNN. I stopped after:

1. They told me Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks.

2. They told me Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and was about to use them on America.

3. They told me they had found Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

4. They told me three skyscrapers had collapsed on 9/11 from just two jet planes, and called anyone who questioned this a "conspiracy theorist".

5. They parroted the Bush Administration lies as hard news.

So, CNN is going under. Good riddance!

Shunk Wugga said...

Since AOhelL bought out CNN their coverage has gotten worse and worse....Maybe if they just offered a quality product and not a pro government, pro Israel propaganda outlet they might get ratings.....If CNN continues their extremely poor news coverage then them folding is not bad news.