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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

'Lives' vs. Reporting the News

There's an interesting article, by MP Nunan, on HuffPo about the fall of CNN. Here's an excerpt, the entire article is after the jump.

The real diagnosis, however, may be deceptively simple. The sad truth is, CNN no longer reports the news. It merely does "lives" -- an endless stream of anchors or talking-heads, blathering on about the subject du jour.

A 24-hour news channel, you see, is a good thing. Live news, more often than not, just blows.

The media pages have been alive in recent months with prognostications about the impending death of CNN, and multiple diagnoses about what's causing its demise.

Most recently, Vanity Fair's Michael Wolff critiqued the leadership, or lack thereof, by the head of CNN/US, Jon Klein - and his efforts to shake-up CNN's primetime line-up as both symptom and treatment of the illness.

Others, including Politico and the New York Times' Ross Douthat, have insisted that because of its impartial editorial line, CNN is losing viewers to the left leaning MSNBC or the right leaning Fox. In Politico's words, CNN needs to "get more personality."

Douthat insists that CNN should bring back Crossfire, the debate program which allegedly fell at the hands of Jon Stewart, because viewers like to watch on-air slugfests.

The real diagnosis, however, may be deceptively simple. The sad truth is, CNN no longer reports the news. It merely does "lives" -- an endless stream of anchors or talking-heads, blathering on about the subject du jour.

A 24-hour news channel, you see, is a good thing. Live news, more often than not, just blows.

When I first started looking at the CNN death knells, in April, I spent a day watching coverage of the coal mining disaster in Montcoal, West Virginia, in which there was an on-going search for four trapped miners after a blast killed 25 of their colleagues. (Sadly, all four were eventually found dead.)

CNN's coverage consisted of live feeds from press conferences; lots of satellite interviews with talking-heads related to the mining industry; the occasional live question-and-answer with a correspondent, standing in a field in West Virginia.

I counted exactly one news package. (And it was a very low-rent one with wallpaper images cobbled together from feeds from local broadcasters, with no reporter on the scene.)

Where was the reporting?

In days of yore, say, the mid 00's and the 90's, CNN would send one of its correspondents -- let's say Christiane Amanpour -- with a cameraman and perhaps a producer into a situation, to film events, do interviews and develop visual sequences with people informed about the situation at hand. She would write a script and shoot a piece to camera - placing herself on the scene and elucidating more about the situation. The team would feed an edited "news package" -- a story -- home, to be broadcast.

But where were CNN's news packages on how coal mining communities are coping in a world that's meant to be evolving toward alternative energy? Where's the news package from another mine that shows what a day in the life of a miner is like? Where is the news package about the community pulling together to support one another, or help coming in from other towns?

I'm sorry, but talking heads, Google Earth and computer graphics of mining techniques just don't do it for me. And that's pretty much what CNN's live coverage consisted of.

"Live" can also be blamed for the wholesale decline in the caliber of the discussion.

Most of us remember when Captain "Sully" Sullenberger landed the US Airways jet on the Hudson -- for a certain amount of time, that was extraordinary live news -- something CNN does well.

Then it devolved. As the coverage dragged on, Wolf Blitzer was saying things like, "Of course in an plane crash, you shouldn't stop to get your things from the overheard compartment.... Let's turn now to Person-at-the-Scene."

Person-at-the-Scene: "What's important to remember in an emergency is not to get your things from the overhead compartment... Now let's turn to Air-Disaster Analyst So-and-So" - who repeats the same line about overhead compar -- enough already!

It seems pretty obvious that when you have to spend hour after hour filling up live air, then the quality of the information and analysis you're going to impart is going to become ever more trivial.

And -- paging Jon Klein and Michael Wolff -- when CNN's regular news-programming consists, at times, of anchors reading Twitter out loud, should network execs really be so surprised that no one is tuning in to primetime?

The problem is that the news package I mentioned earlier -- the one from the mine, reported, perhaps, by Christiane Amanpour? That would take all day to shoot and edit, and it'd come to a total of about 2-3 minutes of material. Tops. It's expensive -- far more expensive than having a talking-head babble on camera for the same amount of time.

With her defection from CNN to the Sunday morning circuit for ABC, Christiane Amanpour, I would wager, saw the writing on the wall. The veteran of Bosnia, Somalia, Israel/Palestine, Iran, Rwanda (among other places) would have been able to clearly see that CNN is no longer a place for a correspondent who wants to report news. (And now, rumors abound that Anderson Cooper also has one foot out the door.)

Yes, CNN appears to be dying. But the cure is not to be found in bringing back Crossfire, nor in developing an editorial bias, nor in finding someone provocative enough to drag viewers back to primetime.

The cure lies in blowing off live news coverage -- in order to report the news.

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Anonymous said...

Thank you maybe now CNN will get the message.
Do some news. That is exactly why CNN is going
down, down and down. There is no real journalism
or reporting.

Anonymous said...

I agree 100 % . A little over a year ago CNN
went to this lousy format and it is boring and
then some.It definitely messed up 360. The
people they interview are not connected to
the stories and CNN calls everything a debate.
I thought I was watching a 24 hour news channel.
Which is what will really save CNN. A 24hr talk
show format does not work. More news and
information will make a difference. Finally,
someone is pointing out that CNN stopped
doing news and that is why the ratings dropped.

Anonymous said...

As a long time watcher of CNN, I have been terribly disappointed with the supposed news that is shown. By the time AC360 comes on, the same story has been covered over and over again ad nauseum. I have also heard from every pundit and supposed expert on the particular subject du jour. I am considering switching to another cable news program if things don't improve---and I never in a million years thought I would ever do that. The article was excellent and right on the mark.

Anonymous said...

I am deeply disappointed in what passes as "news" on CNN. I have watched CNN for as long as I can remember, but now find myself tired of pundits, experts, and anchors who read from teleprompters. Why watch AC360 when I can get the news 3 hours earlier? Why watch AC360 on Fridays when it is old news (pre-taped, therefore yesterday's news). Why watch one story get repeated day after day, and feel like I am getting hit in the head with the same stuff I heard the day before and the day before that? The article by HuffPo said it well and I certainly agree.

Anonymous said...

CNN=Nonstop Blathering 24/7 except during: Breaking News which=Nonstop
Blathering analysis LIVE, except on Fridays for 360, where NO NEWS happens until AC returns, whenever.

Anonymous said...

So finally someone is telling CNN the truth.
It is not about ideology. I think the talking
heads get more air time than actual reporters.
Television is a visual medium which means
CNN needs to run lots of video. The lack of
video is being relaced with blah,blah blah.
24/7. I too have had it with left vs right.
Is this what CNN calls compelling television.
Don't even get me started about Twitter

Anonymous said...

CNN is in pundit overload mode and it is
going to make them lose viewers more and
more.In watching CNN, you get the feeling
that you don't matter. It is about the pundits
and they are going to come and have their
say even if you don't like it. One thing wrong
is wrong with that type of thinking. I have a
remote and will turn the channel. Respect
your viewers CNN.

Anonymous said...

In 2010, the era of Facebook, Youtube & Twitter,
only old media would think pundits are relevant
to the news.If you do a simple Google search, it
does not take long to realize the media can't get
the facts straight about the Islamic Center.A
mosque is only a part of what will be in the
building. It is time for some network news boss
to say enough and end the silliness that parades
itself as news. Do we really need analysis of the
news stories we see? There is definitely too much
talk but it is saying nothing.It is different for
someone like a Peter Bergen or CNN;s own
journalists who will cover a story. I call what
CNN is doing lazy journalism. Where is a real
24/7 news channel. ? Finally, someone has
called CNN out for not doing the news and
they actually spent time watching CNN .

Anonymous said...

Ironically, this is what so many of us have been
saying on this blog. CNN turned it's back on
news.CNN has CNN domestic,CNN I,
TW properties and dozens of affiliates, there is
no excuse for this. CNN could easily do news
24/7. It is not like they lack the resources. They
just don't use them.

Anonymous said...

CNN has a huge problem. In 24 hrs you will be
lucky if you get 24 minutes of news. My goodness
you have management at CNN who thing Rick
Sanchez is good television. What is wrong with
the suits.

Anonymous said...

CNN blew it big time. They could have committed
themselves to doing good solid journalism and
find a way to tell interesting stories. There is such
a thirst and hunger for news and information and
the race is on to see who will have the first digital
news organization because there are millions of
people who want this. Unfortunately, CNN just
doesn't get it.I am sick of the talking heads and
360 is back to being really bad again this week
for just that reason..Tv by the Numbers says
CNN was 4th for the 100th time this year in
the prime time demo. Considering that there
are only 365 days in a year, that is not good
news at all. Rachel Maddow gets it because
she is a part of the 18-49 generation that
can't relate to cable news because they
assume you are too dumb to know anything.

Anonymous said...

I just don't get CNN these days. Is Dr Laura
really a lead story. How in the world can you
compare what the mother in SC did to her kids
to the Susan Smith case. Smith said a black man
carjacked her kidnapped the kids. This case is
nothing like that. The sheriff says the mother
was overwhelmed and she called 9-1-1 to say
someone ran her off the road. Stop making fake

Anonymous said...

I think the writing is on the wall for CNN.
Cable news is owned by crazies,partisans
and jerks.CNN is a part of the problem.
CNN lets this happen on their channel.
They don't have to go there but they do.
As if CNN was not bad enough take a
look at the changes the are making at
HLN. Might as well have company in the
race to the bottom of cable news.

Cyn said...

The sad thing is... whoever makes decisions at CNN Does Not Get It. There are a lot of people out here who want actual news. I really don't care what the pundits say. I want reporting and analysis by people who understand the situation (legalites, realities, etc; NOT opinions.)

And why be all soft and fluffy at night? If you want 360 to be a news program, than cover the news. Why aren't the Iraq/Afghanistan reports aired? Look how little time they have spent covering the disaster in Pakistan. Okay, call out the "terror babies" for the nonsense it is -- heap scorn on the notion and move on. STOP saying and using graphics about "The Ground Zero Mosque" in order to whip up hysteria. Call it what it is. SHOW SOME JOURNALISTIC LEADERSHIP. Honor your newsroom heritage.

Gillian said...

I couldn't agree more with this article. Gone are the days when I could switch on CNN and get actual news. Now all we get is talk, talk, talk. I'm sick of the pundits and the panel discussions. I think they have ruined AC360, it use to be a really good program imo. Listen to your viewers CNN.