Inside CNN’s 2012 Strategy
The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Kristi E. Swartz writes in depth about CNN’s 2012 election strategy and interviews CNN Washington Bureau Chief Sam Feist. This article is only available in the physical paper or via the AJC’s iPad app.
In 2008, Atlanta-based CNN rolled out a slate of prime time and weekend programs such as “CNN Election Center” and “Ballot Bowl” leading up to Election Day. Feist said similar election-based programming will steadily increase between now and January, when the first primary ballots will be cast for the Republican nominee.
The network meanwhile already is using the CNN Election Express bus and is adding reporters, researchers and writers to its political unit. Reporters and anchors such as King, chief national correspondent and host of the prime time “John King USA,” also have visited early primary states, such as South Carolina and New Hampshire, to supplement reporting on major candidates.
“It’s a significant investment,” said Feist, who declined to give a specific dollar amount.
This is a critical time for CNN. A tight Democratic primary, wall-to-wall graphics, full-blown social media usage and nine sponsored debates helped boost its ratings in 2008. The network had record-setting ratings on election night, roughly doubling its audience from 2004 and surpassing broadcast networks NBC and CBS.
Then viewership started to fall off, especially in the highly coveted, advertising target of prime time. While CNN had lagged behind bitter rival Fox News, it began to take a ratings backseat to MSNBC and even sister network HLN. Longtime anchors and personalities — Lou Dobbs, Christiane Amanpour, Larry King and others — left or didn’t have contracts renewed. CNN began to shuffle programming and make executive changes, which included Ken Jautz moving from HLN to become the CNN/U.S executive.
CNN’s ratings have been up in recent months, but the network continues to make changes, especially to its prime time lineup. It recently cut former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s show, moved Anderson Cooper’s program to 8 p.m. with a repeat at 10 p.m. and will add a 7 p.m. show to be hosted by former CNBC anchor Erin Burnett.
Feist said Burnett’s show will be a key part of election coverage.
“Every poll shows us that the economy and jobs is what’s going to drive this election,” he said. “Issue No. 1, 2, 3, 4 is related to the economy. She’s going to be an important player.”
And then there’s this which will have Jay Rosen screaming at his iPad…
It’s unclear how the presidential election, with only the Republican nominee in doubt, may impact the network. Feist said CNN “plays it down the middle,” opposed to right-leaning Fox News and left-leaning MSNBC. He is optimistic that the number of people who came to CNN for the Republican debate will stick around for a while.
Evidently Feist is not yet on the Mark Whitaker bandwagon…