In Depth: Five Ways to Fix CNN?

Jay Rosen writes on about five ways to fix CNN. As with a lot of things Rosen writes about some have merit and some need more fleshing out. First of all I really wish Rosen and everyone else who writes about CNN would differentiate about what part of CNN they are talking about: Dayside or Primetime? The rules are different for each and what Rosen writes about fixing CNN is more applicable to one than the other.

1. Drop the chronic impartiality.

CNN is brain dead. They have worked themselves into an intellectual trap of having no particular point of view; they have convinced themselves that they can’t become right-wing like Fox or left-wing like MSNBC. As Jon Stewart demonstrated, CNN airs a dispute in which one side may be insane — the earth is flat — but the anchors fail to explain who is right. They need to cure this problem of “leaving it there,” because it’s killing them — it’s killing their brand, it’s killing trust, it’s lazy, it’s superficial, and it’s an audience loser.

Hang on…isn’t this supposed to the “fair and balanced” credo? We report, you decide? Present both sides and let the viewer make up their mind? Now this is suddenly a brand killer? Furthermore, who gets to decide what constitutes sanity and what doesn’t? If there is no set agreed upon standard then explaining “who is right” from an absolute sense is problematic. It then turns away from “who is right” to “who I say is right”. But that’s not necessarily right. And even O’Reilly lets the “loons” get in the last word even if he trounces them (or thinks he’s trounced them).

I would really like to see Rosen cite specific examples of “CNN airs a dispute in which one side may be insane – the earth is flat – but the anchors fail to explain who is right” That sort of TV spectacle sounds atypical on a day in day out basis for CNN. So if Rosen’s going to make this charge, he really needs to show us exactly what he’s talking about.

2. Take a cue from The Daily Show.

They should figure out how to emulate Stewart, but without the comedy: pointing out the absurdity and hypocrisy of what people say across television broadcasts, calling out demagoguery, the misleading use of facts, and the people trying to confuse us. They need to call BS on our political system. They almost had it with No Bias, No Bull, but they changed the title back to just Campbell Brown. If they had carried through on that idea — especially the “no bull” part — they could have forged a real identity.

If they figured out how to emulate Stewart, the media critics would pick up on it and say they’re emulating Stewart and have no ideas of their own. I disagree completely on No Bias, No Bull. The concept might have been a good one but the host seemed ill at ease with the role so it was the right call to go back. But is cable news primetime viewership, in an age where people want to hear what they expect to hear, willing to put up for long with a host that calls it down the middle and goes after BS on both sides? I’m not convinced they would. But that doesn’t mean CNN shouldn’t give it a shot.

3. Don’t give the audience what (you think) they want.

You can’t know what the audience will accept until you try new things, but they refuse to try anything new. CNN, and many other journalists, cavalierly state that they know what viewers want based on past and current choices, but it’s a narrow range of choices. No one knows what an audience wants ahead of time. (From Rosen’s blog: “But I’ve got some ideas.”)

This is dead on accurate. Cable news is risk adverse and I’ve argued as much elsewhere.

4. Social media is more than a gimmick.

The importance of i-Report is a myth. It’s useful when there’s breaking news and CNN can’t get a cameraman to the location, but I doubt that any producer at CNN considers it a central resource. A better use of citizen journalism would be an army of fact checkers and story spotters. That would be journalistically distinct. CNN wants to be first on the scene, but they don’t want to be distinct. Being on Twitter and Facebook is responding to trends, but hasn’t changed the idea of what they’re doing.

I’m ambivalent on i-Report. But to trust citizen journalists as fact checkers or story spotters is rife with problems from the get go. The chief problem is not all facts are universally agreed upon and not all stories are universally considered germane. This is particularly true for stories that have an ideological angle to them. Without consensus from the spotters, it’s still going to boil down to some producer or manager at the network to make the call as to whether the story meets the necessary standards. The same thing applies for fact checking because facts are also open to interpretation.

The problem isn’t as much that there is no agreed upon consensus for a story or facts but what happens after the story gets on the air and the side that didn’t think it was a story, or wasn’t told the right way, or disagreed with the fact checking starts screaming bias? Networks have it bad enough when their own internal story/fact checking mechanisms result in outside screams of bias. It would be much worse if the networks relied on groups of people to tell them what’s a story and what’s a fact because they could be seen as being swayed by outside entities. And we have enough of that already.

5. A news channel should break news.

If CNN were doing kick-ass journalism and bringing new stuff to the national attention, and they were still in third place, that would be a different situation. But what are the big stories they’ve broken over the past few years? Safety first isn’t going to get them there. It’s the product of smug, self-satisfied programmers who think that balance is itself a demonstration of superior journalism. They need a pro-reality bias.

Of all of Rosen’s points this is by far the most undefined, vacuous, and ambigous point of all. It’s so vague it’s almost not worth talking about. What on earth is a “pro-reality bias”? Did Rosen just make that phrase up? If you’re serious about fixing CNN the least you can do is show your readers what the heck you mean rather than throw out terms that aren’t defined.

All the channels break news, it doesn’t matter which one you talk about. The question then falls to what’s the quality of the news being broken and is the story being manufactured or aided and abetted in its germination by the network; the “we’ll keep pounding on it until someone else bothers to pick it up and then it might really turn into a story” approach. The networks can’t be seen as desperately looking for stories to break that they’ll break anything just to break something because that would undermine their credibility. There needs to be some litmus test, some benchmark for what qualifies as a real breaking news story and what doesn’t.’

It’s partly because there is no litmus test that we are subjected to what we are subjected to in cable news; car chases, structure fires, car crashes, balloon boy, dogs on ice flows, dogs in rivers…local stories all…yet all being “broken” on cable news…but none of these are the sorts of news Rosen would probably want to see broken.

If Rosen wants good investigative journalism that breaks news, well, CNN is already doing that. So I really don’t understand what Rosen is either trying to say or wants CNN to do with this particular point 5.

56 Responses to “In Depth: Five Ways to Fix CNN?”

  1. joeremi Says:

    Why doesan’t Rosen just admit he’s advising CNN to act like Fox? “Pro-reality bias” means “pro-our reality”. “Breaking news” means “finding something like the Tea Party and reporting/advertising it incessantly until first your viewers, then the other networks, believe it’s Something.”

    But I guess “act like the successful ones” isn’t very original. Kind of like saying “make more vampire movies”..

  2. CNN would do well to act more like Fox… but save the “Breaking News” alerts for things that are happening right now instead of hours ago.

  3. tinafromtampa Says:

    This whole argument that CNN is straight down the middle is absurd. CNN is left leaning and that is where it’s problems started. It decided it could no longer compete with FNC, so it went into the gutter and competed with MSNBC. Simple as that.

    Hiring a disgraced democrat governor isn’t going to help CNN. Have they yet to report on the DOJ whistle blower story? Or NASA’s new mission?

    CNN is in denial; they claim down the middle, but they act way left of center. A lie by omission is still a lie.

    CNN is keeping it dishonest, if they want to gain viewers, they will stop the dishonest, and report ALL the stories, not just those that help the DNC.

    FNC dominates for a reason, they REPORT, the others do not. MSNBC is DNC; CNN is DNC. FNC is both…and until the idiot managers at CNN realize that, they will stay lost.

  4. joeremi Says:
    July 7, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    You know that cable news is a business right?

    They are supposed to be making money – that’s not easy if you don’t have the ratings to attract sponsors.

    FNC has a business model that works. Maybe CNN needs a consultant to help them create a better business model. It doesn’t look like the company’s talent can figure it out.

  5. joeremi Says:

    Tina, your concepts of what constitutes ‘left’ and ‘straight’ are hyperbolic and delusional.

  6. joeremi Says:

    Laree, I didn’t make a judgement against FNC’s business model. I said that Rosen wasted many paragraphs avoiding the simple sentence he was selling.

  7. joeremi Says:
    July 7, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Oh Well Nevermind then 🙂

  8. michellefrommadison Says:

    If CNN stopped hiring drunks and drug-users then that would eliminate Nancy Grace and Jane Valez-Mitchell. That would be a start in the right direction for CNN. Anderson should stay though, he’s great at presenting both sides of the story.

  9. joeremi Says:

    ^In the case of Valez-Mitchell (I don’t know about Grace), that’s recovering drunk to you, as is Glenn Beck. Anybody not currently practicing a debilitating addiction – especially someone who’s been away from it for many years – has just as much right as anybody else to do the job they were hired for. So…shut up.

  10. laura l Says:

    — drunks and drug-users —

    You mean like Rush Limbaugh?

  11. tinafromtampa Says:

    Joe, stop projecting — you are the one who is delusional.

  12. joeremi Says:

    Snappy comeback there, Tina. Formidable, you are.

  13. mmmmmm….talking like Yoda, you are. mmmmmmmmm….

  14. -CNN needs a consultant to help them create a better business model-

    A wiser-than-CNN-talent delusional mind have you.

  15. tooncigars Says:

    CNN– too big to fail?– maybe we should bail it out–

  16. lonestar77 Says:

    CNN is a left-wing organization. There is zero doubt about it. Just because they aren’t wingnut crazy like MSNBC doesn’t make them non-partisan. No honest person believes CNN plays it down the middle.

  17. joeremi Says:

    There is zero doubt about it. No honest person believes CNN plays it down the middle.

    That’s right up there with “it’s the truth and you know it”. That’s the truth and you know it.

  18. “CNN is a left-wing organization.”
    Communist or just socialist?

  19. laura l Says:

    Definitely not Capitalist..

  20. joeremi Says:

    Definitely not Capitalist..

    That’s funny. 😉

  21. ^ Humour is always funniest when it’s true.

  22. michellefrommadison Says:

    Speaking of funny, that’s exactly what CNN has turned into over the recent years. Kind of in a Comedy-Central sort of way. Their hosts are funny to laugh at since they rarely know the facts of the stories they try to discuss. But, that is bound to happen when CNN only seems to hire drunks and drug-users.

  23. laura l Says:

    Some things are just so clever the first time that they bear repeating. Odds on seeing it again before the day’s over?

  24. sviscusi Says:

    On #4. Using the audience as a sort of distributed team of fact checkers could work provided there was a decent interface. It seems like it wouldn’t be impossible to put up a list of facts claimed during a particular show and having the audience prove or disprove those facts. There would be a hell of a lot of noise from braindead partisans like there is on wikipedia or on other sites, but it could work as long as it’s moderated.

  25. Pretty good I’d say. Funny how left wing organizations only hire drug users and drunks. The right wing networks tend to stick with bullies & beauty queens. 🙂

  26. laura l Says:

    Well, CNN did have Beck first.

  27. ^ and Greta.

  28. joeremi Says:

    -Well, CNN did have Beck first.-

    …and screwed it up.

  29. michellefrommadison Says:

    Like I said, CNN is a Comedy-Central on their hosts, all drunken pill-popping mediaheads flapping their jaws and not accomplishing anything constructive, except Anderson Cooper, imo. 🙂

  30. laura l Says:

    Visualize AC shaking with relief over that pronouncement.

  31. michellefrommadison Says:

    Well, AC appears to be the only one on CNN that is not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. All the others have admitted their usage too.

  32. joeremi Says:

    Michelle, you tourette-addled repeater of repeating things, you do know the first step is admitting the problem, right..?

  33. No doubt Sanjay is the big drug user.

  34. laura l Says:

    — ^ and Greta. —

    No substance issues to my knowledge, but she did have a different face.

  35. harry1420 Says:

    do what everybody else is not doing…NEWS and more NEWS

  36. laura l Says:

    News? Didn’t Ted Turner try that once?

  37. joeremi Says:

    …but she did have a different face.

    Speaking of this and CNN.. The formerly perfectly attractive Kyra Phillips looks perfectly weird now.

  38. -face weird now-

    Liberal faceist you are.

  39. michellefrommadison Says:

    If CNN really wanted to try to clean up their act, they would breathalize and drug test each host before every show. But, of course, that would immediately eliminate each and every CNN host. Not so sure about AC though, he might be the only one to pass the alcohol and drug testing.

  40. Deja-vu all over again.

  41. laura l Says:

    Must be snack time. The Twinkies are here.

  42. joeremi Says:

    The complete lack of awareness is fascinating. I’m in awe..

  43. michellefrommadison Says:

    The complete lack of awareness is fascinating, I agree, but CNN continues to have so many drunks and drug-users on staff it truly is amazing to see them slowly but surely deteriorate and crumble.

  44. joeremi Says:

    (Bangs head against wall, asks himself how many times he needs to be told “don’t feed the troll’..)

  45. michellefrommadison Says:

    You really shouldn’t troll Joe.

  46. joeremi Says:

    You really shouldn’t troll Joe.

    …or respond to the same bad joke over and over again. I do learn. Eventually.

  47. michellefrommadison Says:

    Good for you Joe. 🙂

  48. joeremi Says:

    ^Oh sure, now you’re suddenly gonna develop a personality and be all nice to me? Next thing I know you’ll be, like, debating and stuff. I don’t trust it..

  49. michellefrommadison Says:

    Facts do scare some people Joe, especially the uninformed. But, thanks for proving my points about that. 🙂

  50. joeremi Says:

    Oh come on, Michelle Smiley Face. The only “fact” you’ve provided all night is that some employees of CNN have battled addiction, a hugely common occurence in this “turn on the game and pop a brew” society. You made exactly zero points with it, besides looking silly with its constant repetition.

  51. laura l Says:

    Google Her. She’s a whack. Let it go.

  52. laura l Says:

    Being Google-able and having idiots like us pay attention is probably the high-point of her life. Withdraw treatment.

  53. joeremi Says:

    Who you calling an idiot? Oh, right..

  54. joeremi Says:


  55. laura l Says:

    She shows up just often enough that the name is familiar, but you forget that there’s nothing there. Sad, really.

  56. michellefrommadison Says:

    Fact-providers are often attacked by the uninformed and the uneducated, but thanks for proving my points. Education is key to improving yourself and stepping out of the cesspool of ignorance. Need more help?

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