Fractured Audiences…

Time Magazine’s Michael Scherer blogs about the fractured cable news audience but keenly notes a new AC 360 ad…

White House Communications Director Anita Dunn appeared Sunday morning on Howard Kurtz’s CNN show Reliable Sources to discuss her comments in my TIME magazine story this week. She continued her criticism of Fox News:

But let’s be realistic here, Howie. You know, they are widely viewed as, you know, part of the Republican Party. Take their talking points, put them on the air. Take their opposition research, put them on the air and that’s fine. But let’s not pretend they’re a news network the way CNN is.

The ironic part came later, during the commercial break. All morning, CNN has been intermittently running a promo for Anderson Cooper 360, a show that has long billed itself as a classic straight news program with an investigative front man who digs “beyond the headlines” with “many points of view, so you can make up your own mind.” The new promo, by contrast, consists of a woman’s voice, pitching Cooper’s show as, essentially, a liberal alternative to Fox News: “I’m a lifelong Democrat,” she says, “and that’s why I watch Anderson Cooper.” Hmmm. The voice goes on to say that Cooper is the person she can turn to hold “right wing” conservatives accountable. Cooper is not exactly aiming for the political middle ground here.

I do have to disagree with something Scherer says later on…

If anything, the Anderson Cooper promo is just the latest evidence of what Fox News president Roger Ailes seems to have known long ago: Cable news viewers seem to want an ideological slant to their information. The cable audience has fractured beyond the general news programming.

I agree that the cable audience has fractured badly. But I’m not convinced that cable news viewers want an ideological slant to their information, at least not consciously. What I believe many viewers gravitate to is news that reflects their world view…news that tells the story the way they believe it to be true. By reporting on stories that are of interest to their viewers (programmers: know thy audience), FNC isn’t being overtly ideological in its news coverage any more than any other network news channel. The problems for the news channel, in terms of how news and opinion are conflated, arise in the parts of the show which are half-breeds of journalism and opinion (Fox and Friends, Beck, Hannity, etc). But FNC, unlike other networks which have mixed news and and opinion (MSNBC, CNN), has steadfastly maintained a firewall between the journos and the talking head pundits. You’ve never seen an O’Reilly anchoring news coverage. Can’t say the same thing about FNC’s rivals.

One area where all the networks, and I do mean all the networks, have failed is keeping opinion off the newscasts. Name a network; CNN, MSNBC, FNC…they all have talents working dayside who have gotten too vocal in giving their opinions. Some have gone so far as to make complete asses of themselves. It’s an unfortunate situation and one that I would like to see go away.

Most viewers will publicly state that they don’t want slanted news and even ideological partisans who are free thinkers will admit to the failings of their favorite network when presented with evidence of such. Even ideology can collapse under the weight of cold hard facts. So while ideology is certainly a factor to cable news, I don’t give it nearly as much weight as Scherer…

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7 Responses to “Fractured Audiences…”

  1. geoffrey1986 Says:

    I just read your post about that promo and left this comment on the Time blog and figured I’d post it here as well:

    I was watching Reliable Sources this morning, too, and was also surprised and disappointed when I heard CNN’s promo for AC 360 (I was looking at my computer so I only heard it when it ran). But I just didn’t believe it. So I went back on my DVR and played it again. Turns out that the woman saying “I’m a lifelong Democrat” comes at the same time a man says “I’m a lifelong Republican.” The on-screen graphics try to bring home the point, sort of melding the words that the man and the woman are saying. The point of the ad is that AC 360 is there for both sides because it’s a fair program. Unfortunately, the woman’s voice seems more powerful (at least to me and, apparently, you) and that’s what we picked up if we’re only listening and not watching. Interesting idea for a promo but it failed.

    Read more: http://swampland.blogs.time.com/2009/10/11/cable-news-irony-alert-cnn-fox-and-the-disappearing-general-audience/#add-your-comment#ixzz0TfhRraS2

  2. I heard the ad and it definitely was two people talking. But the woman was easier to hear because the man’s voice as deeper.

  3. unclearthur Says:

    I heard the ad and it definitely was two people talking. But the woman was easier to hear because the man’s voice as deeper.

    one reason automated voices are almost always female (although GPS’s give you a choice) is that the female voice is easier to understand through ambient noise. they should have had the two voices not in sync to allow the male voice to be heard.

    The automated voice in aircraft is called ‘Bitching Betty’, at least in the US – I understand in Britain, she’s Nagging Nora. (I wonder if the moderation will allow the B word?)

  4. But FNC, unlike other networks which have mixed news and and opinion (MSNBC, CNN), has steadfastly maintained a firewall between the journos and the talking head pundits.

    Holy selective memory batman. I think you’re forgetting the years Brit Hume hosted coverage, or all the times Tony Snow hosted news coverage, not to mention that John Gibson started off hosting a block of weekend news.

  5. But FNC, unlike other networks which have mixed news and and opinion (MSNBC, CNN), has steadfastly maintained a firewall between the journos and the talking head pundits. You’ve never seen an O’Reilly anchoring news coverage. Can’t say the same thing about FNC’s rivals.

    Two, not three cheers.

    If the networks are going to have straight news people they should be isolated from the opinion or commentary programs unless they’re there to report news. No hosting and no Shuster-like harrassing of conservative guests.

    It’s one thing to have commentators read or deliver the news in a sort of dual capacity, although that too is blurring the distinction between fact and opinion.

    It’s quite another for the news reporters to give opinions.

    No third cheer since, as the poster above noted correctly, FNC did allow people like Gibson and Snow to wear two hats.

    This latter trend – the Megan Kellys for example – is something all of us, I think, have complained about.

  6. FNC did allow people like Gibson and Snow to wear two hats.

    Not to mention permitting Britt Hume to sit in on the roundtable opinion discussion segment of the Sunday show.

    Fox may be the least egregious violator, especially recently; but let’s not kid ourselves about this.

    That Fox firewall hasn’t always been so sturdy, Spud.

  7. I think you’re forgetting the years Brit Hume hosted coverage, or all the times Tony Snow hosted news coverage, not to mention that John Gibson started off hosting a block of weekend news.

    Oh please. Don’t conflate people like Snow and Hume, the latter of which had an exemplary journalism pedigree, with bomb throwers like Beck, O’Reilly, and Hannity. And Hume sitting in the Fox News Sunday roundtable is nothing different from Sam Donaldson doing it on ABC. The whole point of the roundtable is to give an opinion. And Hume never went off the deep end the way bomb throwers would. He was far more reserved. And he had his stuff together unlike some of his more shoot from the hip colleagues on Fox News Sunday, like Juan “beat me up Brit!” Williams…

    As far as Gibson goes, he didn’t start off at FNC as a bomb thrower. That happened later.

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