In Depth: To stress primetime or to not stress primetime? That is the question.

The Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik makes a passionate case for CNN staying the course…

Here’s why I am so passionate about this: CNN is our last, best hope for a full-service, worldwide, US-based, TV news operation dedicated first and foremost to offering verified information and facts rather than opinion and commentary. Such information is crucial to democracy. If CNN fails, you tell where else we will find such information in time of crisis on TV. Jim Lehrer’s “NewsHour” aspires to the same goals, but it has a tiny staff and nothing close to the kind of funding it taakes to cover America let alone the world.

And as the networks cut back, CNN has expanded to 36 bureaus worldwide.

Here’s my rebuttal:

While it could be so argued that CNN is the “last best hope for a full-service, worldwide, US-based, TV news operation” the point that CNN is solely “dedicated first and foremost to offering verified information and facts rather than opinion and commentary” is not a totally accurate appraisal. Witness Rick’s List. Witness CNN’s foray into the Twitter-verse and bringing people’s opinions on stories to the air. CNN is not pure as the driven snow on this matter. Not anymore. It may be more pure than MSNBC or FNC but that doesn’t mean that CNN domestic isn’t already tainted.

Zurawik argues “If CNN fails, you tell where else we will find such information in time of crisis on TV.” This is somewhat of a straw man argument because in a time of crisis all the networks tend to buckle down and just report the facts. For proof of this all one has to do is look at history. 9/11, anyone? Katrina? But say for the sake of argument that CNN did go opinion and commentary, someone else would step in to fill the void. There would still be a demand for straight news and therefore a business opportunity to be had. Cable nets might start carrying BBC World News or CNN’s domestic’s more pure sibling CNN International.

Zurawik tries to drive his point home with this statistic: “And as the networks cut back, CNN has expanded to 36 bureaus worldwide” True but this misses a big point. CNN domestic wouldn’t have that many bureaus at its disposal if CNN International didn’t exist. You can’t separate the two. If CNN domestic stood alone, you can bet your last dollar that the number of bureaus it had would be a lot smaller because the cost would be too high to maintain 36 bureaus. CNNI’s world wide reach, along with other CNN networks like CNN en Espanol amortizes that cost and gives CNN domestic one hell of a news bureau subsidy.

Lastly, Zurawik argues to Howard Kurtz that CNN can afford to not make a ton of money in primetime. That’s true. But where Zurawik starts to falter is when he blames FNC and MSNBC PR for their ratings releases talking about how down CNN is. The blame goes all around and that includes CNN PR, which maintains this ridiculous war between itself and its competition by noting when the other guy’s ratings tank or when their programming has a ratings spike. CNN PR has over the years done as much to make primetime the issue it is as the other guys have. Ye reap what ye sew.

Here’s my point, and it’s one I’ve argued before. If CNN is so dissimilar in its approach and focus than either MSNBC and FNC as it and media critics like Zurawik argue, then it needs to stop comparing itself to the other guys. It can’t have it both ways. It can’t keep sending out press notices noting its ratings successes vs. the other guys (when they occur) and expect the other guys to not hit back. If it wants to argue that it’s doing things differently, it needs to reflect that in its PR notices and stop making comparisons, because that 1) draws the other guys to make comparisons in their releases and 2) makes this look like a fight between three networks with similar missions for media writers and critics like Zurawik himself, even if Zurawik doesn’t believe it is.

You can’t say you’re doing things differently with much credibility if your PR is making it like a fight for the same thing the other guys are after. Change the strategy. Stop the comparisons on your end. Then, if the other guys continue with the comparisons then you say, “we aren’t doing the same thing”. And you won’t have a paper trail that contradicts you undermining your case.

The alternative is to keep the paper war flying, complain that “we’re not on the same mission,” and suck it up and take the lumps in the press you’re bound to receive when your ratings don’t pass muster compared to the other guy’s.

9 Responses to “In Depth: To stress primetime or to not stress primetime? That is the question.”

  1. tinafromtampa Says:

    This meme that CNN presents the “real news” is so bogus as to make one vomit. Campbell Brown’s personal and vicious attack on Gov. Palin right after she was announced as VP, and then LKL and Campbell lieing about it was beyond pathetic. Cooper’s “teabagging” comment is just another example. CMM stacking their audience with dem plants is another example, and they were caught red handed by Bill Bennet and then Cooper stammered and said “they would look into it”. His attack on Judd Gregg when he resigned from Obama’s cabinet nomination is another example of opinion over fact when Anderson announced that he did it do make Obama look bad (and used the words, “in fact” when discussing it). Blah…CNN has earned it’s bottom dwelling due to its falsifications, Obama suck-upery, and it’s constant lies about what it is and what it does.

    CNN lies (as was evidenced in their “reportage” from Iraq) and Eason Jordan’s admission of it.

    CNN is in complete denial about what they are and what they do. Anyone who claims CNN is a straight news organization is in equal denial.

    Viewers tuned out because they are sick and tired of the lies that CNN tells them.

    Wake up, smell the coffee.

  2. joeremi Says:

    Half Gov. Palin is a blithering idiot, and any journalist unwilling to point out that blatantly obvious fact isn’t much of a reporter.

    But yes, Tina, CNN and everybody else not called Fox News are a bunch of leftie communists, and only fair and balanced (except for Shep) Fox tells the truth. It’s always the same old story and I’m bored and don’t care anymore.

  3. wheresthebeef09 Says:

    Doesn’t tinafromtampa get tired of her trotting out her ratty old talking points on EVERY media blog known to man?

    Seriously tinafromtampa, give it a rest. No one cares that Campbell Brown hurt your precious little Sarah Palin a few years ago (which is an EON in the political lifecycle). Campbell Brown, CNN, and the MSM did the American public a FAVOR by exposing what a moron Sarah is. Two years later, and she’s done nothing to improve her standing amongst people outside the far right. Stop blaming little watched Campbell, out of all people, for Sarah’s shortcomings.

  4. tinafromtampa Says:

    Ah yes, defend CNN at all costs. Brown’s personal attack was NOT journalism, which is the point I was making that you both ignore. Cooper’s “Teabagging” comment was NOT journalism, which is the point I was making. But you guys just go ahead and trash the poster rather than the media; typical.

  5. joeremi Says:

    Our Sarah whined to Chris Wallace about the “mainstream media’s” coverage of Rand Paul last week. Apparently reporting what someone says is “gotcha journalism”.

    Speaking of MSM; within the first 30 seconds of Megyn’s show last Friday, she reported that “the mainstream media is saying..”. How long is Fox going to continue this charade? YOU ARE PART OF THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA. Geez.

  6. wheresthebeef09 Says:

    LOL @ tinafromtampa

    1) I don’t even LIKE CNN
    2) I’m not bashing you – I spent more time bashing Sarah in my post

    But really, for a woman who has extremely low ratings – you really think she did any damage to Sarah Palin? Obviously not. Unless you’re trying to tell us that Campbell Brown has a huge influence in the political arena. Is that what you’re trying to say? You can’t have it both ways here. Either Campbell is wildly influential, or Sarah is a moron. Pick one.

  7. lonestar77 Says:

    What Zurawik wants is a less crazy MSNBC. Or, as we all know, what CNN was before Fox News came along. These old school liberal media types want things the way they used to be. The way things were when CNN ran the market with their left-wing ideology. To pretend that CNN is independent is to say that you’re a complete and utter moron.

  8. “in a time of crisis all the networks tend to buckle down and just report the facts. For proof of this all one has to do is look at history. 9/11, anyone? Katrina?”

    I don’t always agree with you Spud/icn2, but this time your analysis is spot-on.

  9. harry1420 Says:

    give me straight news..just the facts and let me decide what to think. I don’t care what the heck anyone thinks about anything. I think there is still a market out there for this kind of programming. NEWS is not opinion/commentary/screaming. My wish is CNN would get back to this. I think there are some smart, intelligent people that still know how to make up their own minds what to think.

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