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Excerpt from Chapter One of What Are Journalists For? "As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press."

Essay in Columbia Journalism Review on the changing terms of authority in the press, brought on in part by the blog's individual--and interactive--style of journalism. It argues that, after Jayson Blair, authority is not the same at the New York Times, either.

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Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

Rants, links, blog news, and breaking wisdom from Jeff Jarvis, former editor, magazine launcher, TV critic, now a J-professor at CUNY. Always on top of new media things. Prolific, fast, frequently dead on, and a pal of mine.

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Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

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Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

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Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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March 31, 2010

What CNN Should Do With Itself in Prime-Time

A media beat reporter asked me if I had any advice for CNN about what to do in prime-time. Just so happens I do. Ditch the View from Nowhere but don't go aping your rivals. Here's my alt line-up for CNN from 7 to 11 pm.

Noting that I had some suggestions for the Sunday morning shows, a media beat reporter recently asked me if I had any advice for CNN about what to do in prime-time. (See How to Fix CNN by The Politico’s Michael Calderone.)

The occasion for asking was this report, CNN Fails to Stop Fall in Ratings. “CNN continued what has become a precipitous decline in ratings for its prime-time programs in the first quarter of 2010, with its main hosts losing almost half their viewers in a year.” Anderson Cooper, currently the face of the brand, sometimes loses in the ratings to re-runs of MSNBC’s “Countdown.”

And yet, “CNN executives have steadfastly said that they will not change their approach to prime-time programs, which are led by hosts not aligned with any partisan point of view.”

So this is what I told the reporter:

Almost every time I see this subject addressed CNN is placed in a mental lock box by media reporters who share a component of its ideology but of course don’t acknowledge that. The shared component is that the View from Nowhere, also called “straight news,” is inherently superior and always preferable.

But audiences seem to like their news delivered with opinion: right wing in the case of Fox, left leaning in the case of MSNBC, these reporters say. And so the choice is framed: whether to continue with the journalistically superior “we don’t have a view, we’re just giving it to you straight” coverage, which is sometimes called “hard news,” or to cave into a ratings-driven trend: ideologically inflected news.

But not everything in the world fits into that frame. A few thoughts that don’t…

Maybe the View from Nowhere has failed, not because audiences want opinion rather than news but because the Voice of God isn’t as convincing as it once was. From this point of view, nothing will improve at CNN until the people running the news report consider that viewlessness may not be an advantage but ideology-in-command is not the only alternative.

Maybe what Anderson Cooper calls “keeping ‘em honest” journalism has failed at CNN because the way the network operates most of the time it practices “leave it there” journalism, as Jon Stewart so brilliantly explained.

My alt line-up for CNN prime time looks like this: (Please excuse my jokey titles…)

  • 7 pm: Leave Jon King in prime time and rename his show Politics is Broken. It should be an outside-in show. Make it entirely about bringing into the conversation dominated by Beltway culture and Big Media people who are outsiders to Beltway culture and Big Media and who think the system is broken. No Bill Bennett, no Gloria Borger, no “Democratic strategists,” no Tucker Carlson. Do it in the name of balance. But in this case voices from the sphere of deviance balance the Washington consensus.
  • 8 pm: Thunder on the Right. A news show hosted by an extremely well informed, free-thinking and rational liberal that mostly covers the conservative movement and Republican coalition… and where the majority of the guests (but not all) are right leaning. The television equivalent of the reporting Dave Wiegel does.
  • 9 pm: Left Brained. Flip it. A news show hosted by an extremely well informed, free-thinking and rational conservative that mostly covers liberal thought and the tensions in the Democratic party…. and where the majority of the guests (but not all) are left leaning.
  • 10 pm: Fact Check An accountability show with major crowdsourcing elements to find the dissemblers and cheaters. The week’s most outrageous lies, gimme-a-break distortions and significant misstatements with no requirement whatsoever to make it come out equal between the two parties on any given day, week, month, season, year or era. CNN’s answer to Jon Stewart.
  • 11 pm.: Liberty or death: World’s first news program from a libertarian perspective, with all the unpredictablity and mix-it-up moxie that libertarians at their best provide. Co-produced with Reason magazine.

Now that’s a line-up that doesn’t pretend the View from Nowhere is superior and doesn’t turn CNN into MSNBC or Fox. Get it?

Posted by Jay Rosen at March 31, 2010 1:57 PM   Print


Interesting program ideas but with one big problem: Conservatives won’t appear on a show hosted by a liberal and vice versa, I fear. I think Maddow, for example, tries to book conservatives but often gets the brush-off.

Here’s another idea: Have programs that look into details of the major policy issues of the day. The hosts would be journalists not looking to make a name for themselves by embarrassing a politician (the raison d’etre for Sunday show hosts), but rather inquisitive folks who would prod experts (or even politicians) to get into the weeds of, say, healthcare. The politics of those issues could be a part of the discussion, but they would take a back seat to the facts of the issues. Your “Politics is Broken” theme could be a regular one on these programs.

I just learned you’re back, from where I don’t know, but great to see your blog active again.

Posted by: Bob Griendling at March 31, 2010 2:38 PM | Permalink

Not sure I agree with you totally. I would kind of like the facts and the kind of in depth INFORMATION the 24 hour media SHOULD BE providing, delivered by calm, serious people, with NO BIAS or SPIN (and I mean the classic definitions of those words, not the distortions of our modern media). You know, FACTS, that famous "who, what, when, where, why, and how" stuff we learned about in journalism classes in college, real REPORTING.

I, frankly, don't need anyone to tell me what to think, and I just don't care one little bit what all these hyperbolic, desperately self-promoting talking heads THINK. That's why I only watch PBS' NewHour these days, and find my own news from sources I consider credible. ... See More

CNN is too hysterical, and their crystal balls are pretty lousy. They should ask for a refund, and MSBNC and FOX are so biased and delusional that I feel like I've been hooked up to a brain-washing machine if I pause on either channel for more than 5 min.

It's pretty tragic, when a lifelong news/political junkie, can't tolerate the dumbed down, mindless circus on the 24 hour "news" networks. I'm just not that stupid, ignorant, or gullible, and I doubt most viewers are, but if they are . . . well some facts and information, might just fix that problem. ;-)

If I want opinion (meaning someone to agree with me), I go to the editorial page - everything else in the paper, I expect to facts. If I want opinion - I'll go to a blogger. I don't expect "NEWS" networks to be 90% opinion or bias. They could call themselves "editorial" channels I guess. At least that would be accurate. ;-)

Posted by: Teri B. at March 31, 2010 3:09 PM | Permalink

Isn't the problem something else? Not that CNN is doing down-the-middle straight reporting -- God bless them if they actually were doing that -- but, instead, that CNN does a little news reading followed by a lot of "analysis" from the "best political team on TV." It's as though CNN thought -- hey, we're getting such great ratings in the election cycle, so let's just keep up the political blah-blah-blah "analysis" year-round! People just love Gloria Borger and Roland Martin, don't they?

No, some of us don't.

Some of us would like some actual news.

Or, if all we can get is political "analysis," we might as well get it from someone with some actual cranial activity, like Maddow.

Posted by: Jonas at March 31, 2010 3:24 PM | Permalink

All they need to do to get ratings would be actually report the news. But they'll never do that because reality interferes with their agenda. So let them die.

Posted by: K at March 31, 2010 4:39 PM | Permalink

The reason Fox is successful is because there is a HUNGER for conservative commentary/opinion shows since you can't get it anywhere else. The news portion is down the middle, but definitely not liberal, and there is a difference.

I can even watch left/liberal commentary/opinion shows, when it is clearly marked as that. It is the in-the-middle, not taking a side, bland perspective that is confusing and unpleasant to watch, which is CNN.

Whatever CNN does, take a consistent, believable position, and go from there.

Posted by: MPCpiano at March 31, 2010 4:47 PM | Permalink

I agree with some of the commenters here that really great investigative journalism and in-depth coverage of world and national events would be great, but let's face it - that kind of journalism is expensive and just doesn't generate the profits Wall Street demands.

I like the suggestions and they would certainly offer a great improvement to the current CNN fare, particularly the Politics is Broken show. I would definitely TIVO that and watch it later so I could skip the commercials.

Posted by: Charles D [TypeKey Profile Page] at March 31, 2010 4:50 PM | Permalink

MPCpiano, actual news is confusing, bland, and unpleasant to watch? Really? Lol, well maybe you are confusing news and the self-governed informing themselves on the complex issues of our day with professional rasslin. Wow, just wow. And if you think Fox is the only place where conservatives are told what to think, you probably should investigate those radio thingys.

My only other comment is in regard to the idea of "Broken" politics. If politics is broken, then the media broke it, by turning it into dramatized-for-tv reality show. I really wish they wouldn't damage our public discourse or policy any more than they already have. It amazes me that after the wool that was pulled over the media's eyes re: The Iraq War(whether they were cowed into submission or just irresponsible), the media has now gone running wildly into the direction of opining, as if their opinions would have saved us, when what we REALLY needed from the media was investigative REPORTING.

Posted by: Teri B. at March 31, 2010 5:15 PM | Permalink

"If politics is broken, then the media broke it...."

Amen. It may not be that politics was broken solely by the media, but it aided and abetted, and the current state of politics could not survive were it not for cable news and, alas, many of the major newspapers of the day that follow the "he said, she said" brand of journalism without judging the merits of the arguement.

Posted by: Bob Griendling at March 31, 2010 5:25 PM | Permalink

Exactly Bob, without judging the merits, or without filling their roll as fact-checker to the "he said, she said." The fact that politicians say things is news, but what we need journalists to do is tell us whether it's accurate, not what they think about it. I don't understand how there is any value whatsoever in that, and I guess that is the point I'm trying to get at. Since when are journalists making the news with their all important opinions, instead of reporting the news (e.g., the facts)?

I, personally, have heard enough pundits opining on tv since the Democratic primary to last me the rest of this life and into several others.

Posted by: Teri B. at March 31, 2010 5:53 PM | Permalink

It's all fine and seemingly very reasonable to say, "just give us the news," "we need facts," "play it straight," "don't tell me what to think," and so on. That works for events where journalists can simply tell us "what happened." But for controversies and problems facing the political community a different story presents itself.

When things are in dispute, then "just give us the news" and "play it straight" leads right to he said, she said or, as Jon Stewart put it, "CNN leaves it there." To insist on viewlessness brings the quest for innocence into play, an agenda that interferes with the news but remains hidden and for the most part invisible to its holders.

"Straight" comes to mean "straight down the middle." In order for there to be a middle there have to be two sides. Two sides! TV producers love that because they can dramatize it. Once there are two sides the proof that you're playing it down the middle is letting both sides have their say. That's how you get he said, she said. And when one side distorts more than the other or goes off into fantasy land it's safer and it's easier to just.... "leave it there."

At this point not to recognize these overwhelming tendencies is to refuse to face broadcast reality.

I don't think the people at CNN even know how often or how many ways they "leave it there," and leave viewers stranded, unable to know what's true or whom to trust. The routine has been internalized as necessary and just. To continue to be fair you have to leave it there, even if a paid ideologue just blatantly propagandized your viewers. It happens so often they don't even think about it. And when Stewart showed it to them, they still didn't think about it.

I was trying to take notice of these facts when I wrote my post. But I think it's hard to get them across.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at March 31, 2010 7:22 PM | Permalink

I gotta admit that if they played it exactly the way you've laid it out they'd not only reverse their death spiral they'd rule in two years.

Of course they won't because they are too infested with the vision of the anointed. But at least they can't say they weren't given a plan for salvation.

Oh, and as to, "I think Maddow, for example, tries to book conservatives but often gets the brush-off." It's not political, it's personal. She's got all the attractiveness of a sea bass and the warmth of one as well.

Posted by: vanderleun at March 31, 2010 8:04 PM | Permalink

Jay, I get it. I like it. I might even watch it.

I think the only time I contribute to CNN ratings is when Wolf Blitzer is on. It's not required viewing, but rather the best in his time slot. It's interesting to compare the banter between Wolf and Jack Cafferty with Wolf's "leave it there" moderating of partisan guests.

Posted by: Tim at March 31, 2010 8:44 PM | Permalink

An interesting thought is Glenn Beck's television debut was on CNN Headline News (now HLN) in May 2006. He premiered on FNC on January 19, 2009.

How do his ratings compare for the different formats of FNC and HLN?

Mr. Beck has been increasingly successful at Headline News, as his audience has more than doubled in the last year for the two editions of his hourlong weeknight program.
Could Beck have been a ratings competitor for CNN?

Posted by: Tim at March 31, 2010 9:04 PM | Permalink

Ken Doctor

The issue isn’t a new one in journalism, but this particular moment of earthquake-like news business change may be shaking loose the foundations the misguided principles of “objectivity.” Literally, in way too much cases, it has become the act of placing a microphone in front of one “side’s” advocates, then the other, and calling it journalism. That’s as opposed to finding out what the heck is happening — health care, education, budget issues. It’s become an unhelpful echo chamber, with many, yet too few, exceptions.

I don't think that at CNN they have a clue that this formula could be a problem. I have never seen even a glimmer of recognition. All I hear from them is CNN doubles down on straight news.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 1, 2010 12:58 AM | Permalink

Hey, that's an evening lineup that I might actually tune in for, depending on the hosts.

I've switched from CNN to MSNBC. But it isn't because I want to hear only opinion. And it isn't because I want to be entertained. My least favorite MSNBC prime time show happens to be Olberman because it's mostly infotainment.

I switched to MSNBC, despite its vastly weaker scope of news coverage, because CNN just added NO VALUE. If I want to listen to unchallenged talking points, I can just go directly to the website of the particular party, group, or ideologue and read the goddamn talking points myself! It is a complete waste of my time to have one empty-headed Barbie or Ken doll after another stare blankly into space and invite one "interviewee" after another to just vomit talking points--without any follow-up or challenge because Ken or Barbie are too stupid to even pronounce all the terms correctly, let alone think up any useful follow-up question. Straight but INTELLIGENT news would be nice. That's not CNN. It is utterly incompetent at even straight news. It has become nothing more than a forum for the issuance of spin-filled press releases. IT'S SO INTELLIGENCE-INSULTING THAT I CAN'T STAND IT!

It isn't the opinions of people like Rachel Maddow or even Chris Mathews that I like on MSNBC. It's the fact that Maddow is clearly smart and well-researched and that Mathews has an invaluable insiders' perspective on politics that allows him to immediately identify, label, and dismiss talking points as the bullshit he knows them to be. In different ways, both Maddow and Mathews challenge their spinning guests, whereas Ken and Barbie over on CNN can barely remember to breathe, let alone ask a single goddamn follow-up question! Why would I waste my time watching that idiocy in action? They are little more than a service for gathering and republishing press statements.

Posted by: Steve at April 1, 2010 9:03 AM | Permalink

Jay, I understand journalists think we need commentary, and maybe we do, in the proper proportion.

Here's the thing - look at PBS Newshour's Brooks and Shields segment. It's once a week, maybe more if there's something big politically going on. It's balanced; they are the kind of reasonable, rational pundits you suggest; and it's only a tiny portion of the Newhour's programming, not the bulk. THAT is my issue. Commentary has BECOME news.

When I was a kid, my Dad watched local news out of New Orleans, and every Friday afternoon, there was an opinion piece by this grayish, bearded man who's name I don't remember. It said "OPINION" boldly, under his name during his 5 min. commentary. Viewers not only new the difference between news and opinion, so did journalists. That line has been blurred to a point that is alarming IMO.

Also, it's the fact check part of the journalists' job that is sorely lacking. It's the same with the Sunday morning shows. I want David Gregory to do what Russert did and stop some politician spewing talking points and correct misinformation, rather than perpetuate it, repeat it even, in order to stir up and highlight conflict for the sake of ratings.

People actually think they are informing themselves when they watch Fox or MSNBC - quite the contrary. When the facts are being shaped and edited to forward an agenda, we are merely being fed propaganda, which is not a sound basis for self-governing.

There are a couple of Pulitzer quotes that fit this discussion that I'd like to take the liberty of repeating here for those who don't know them:

"The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations."

"Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together."

Joseph Pulitzer

Posted by: Teri B. at April 1, 2010 9:05 AM | Permalink

Here's why CNN's "straight" "journalism" loses:

Some party hack vomits some canned talking point that two dozen other party hacks are simultaneously repeating in other venues, word for word.

The "straight" CNN reports invites the verbatim vomit, receives it with a very solemn expression, and treats it like a serious, meaningful statement.

Meanwhile, CNN has left to the "opinion" people at MSNBC or COMEDIANS--for God's sake!--to look the hack in the eye and call his bullshit the bullshit that it is.

It is "straight" journalism's inability to get beyond that kind of bullshit that leads to colossal journalistic failures: like repeating verbatim the Bush administration's manipulative that led the nation straight into the Iraq War on false premises.

Posted by: Steve at April 1, 2010 9:17 AM | Permalink

"If I want to listen to unchallenged talking points, I can just go directly to the website of the particular party, group, or ideologue and read [them] myself." (Steve)

"I want David Gregory to do what Russert did and stop some politician spewing talking points and correct misinformation, rather than perpetuate it, repeat it even, in order to stir up and highlight conflict for the sake of ratings." (Teri)

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 1, 2010 9:51 AM | Permalink

As for the libertarian show, Fox Business gave John Stossel his own show, and the Reason guys are already a fixture on it.

Kind of a shame, as it effectively equates libertarians with the conservative nonsense Fox is better known for; most libertarians I know (myself included) disdain the "conservative" label, and hate Bush and Obama more or less equally.

Posted by: invalidname at April 1, 2010 11:05 AM | Permalink

CNN could rid itself of its domestic version and switch to CNN International, which reminds me somewhat of BBC World News (which is what I usually watch). We receive very little information about day-to-day events in other countries, even about our neighbors to the south and north. I think there is plenty of information we are lacking; it is difficult to find any in-depth reporting about bills before Congress, as an important example. It takes hard work and money to produce this sort of knowledge; opinions are cheap!

Posted by: katyfitz at April 1, 2010 1:05 PM | Permalink

"most libertarians I know (myself included) disdain the "conservative" label, and hate Bush and Obama more or less equally."

Would that number be "2" or "3?"

Posted by: vanderleun at April 1, 2010 2:24 PM | Permalink

I think CNN would do well to do a K-Street focused show. A show that reports on the movers and shakers behind getting legislation passed. And were it up to me, I'd let Timothy Carney (Washington Examiner/The Big Ripoff/Obamanomics) host it. He's a great muckraker, and could do really good and useful reporting.

Posted by: Wesley at April 1, 2010 2:43 PM | Permalink

The more I think of Rosen's ideas, the more I think they are good but should be re-organized.

Posted by: Bob Griendling at April 1, 2010 5:56 PM | Permalink

Im just going to repeat what everyone else said, But the problem with CNN is that they are completely empty-headed morons who try to act informally with the audience and talk about a cute kitten stuck in a tree or think that bad weather in Texas deserves 24 hour coverage for 1 week straight. GIVE ME NEWS! There is no news on tv. There is just empty bullshit from totally ignorant actors. The problem with CNN is that every show is a different version of Larry King, absolutely no substance.

NPR has the largest audience it ever has, even though radio is as antiquated as the record player, because they COVER ISSUES, talk in depth, and actually investigate and report. I learn something listening to Newshour or NPR. Watching CNN just makes me want Anderson Cooper to get washed away in the next hurricane (which, he will cover 24 hours a day, for 6 days in a row).

There is no doubt that it is cheaper to do the empty headed bullshit that CNN currently does, but Id rather watch FOX because at least I learn how crazy and stupid the right is by watching. I hope CNN dies, and Ted Turner selling it was one of the worst days for our democracy and country.

Also, Professor Rosen, you're obviously a moron. If you think CNN can just continue to provide empty headed commentary, and just do it better, you belong on CNN. John Stewart provides more information than CNN, and that's one of the main reasons he's popular. Your proposed line-up for CNN is no different that the garbage they currently vomit. Above you posted some quotes from the comments of this post, and it shows you just don't understand. The problem is not the competition that the internet provides or that David Gregory can ever provide information, you're totally missing the point. We want information, we don't want bullshit. CNN only provides bullshit. you seem to prefer that.

Posted by: Joe M. at April 1, 2010 6:04 PM | Permalink

"Rosen is someone who has thought and written long and hard about the combined crisis facing contemporary journalism -- the civic crisis of its role in society, and the economic crisis spawned by the fragmentation of the mass media. So it is curious that his fix-it for CNN should address the former -- how to correct the ethos of political journalism -- while remaining quite conventional about the latter: what is the future for video newsgathering" -- Tyndall Report

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at April 2, 2010 5:08 PM | Permalink

It seems to me that CNN might want to ask people who used to be regular watchers why they aren't watching any more. Sure, everyone has an opinion about what they should do -- try to compete with Fox, hire more rightwing flamethrowers -- but do they really think they can draw Fox-watchers? It's a dubious strategy. The trouble is, they are asking the wrong people. Why ask the tired, hackneyed beltway hacks and strategists what they should do to win the audience back? Why not ask people why they no longer bother to tune in?

First of all, CNN is completely unresponsive to any complaints or issues from their audience. They just flat-out do not care what their audience thinks, and virtually never respond to a request for correction, no matter how egregious. Have you EVER seen them issue a correction or update on ANY mistake or outright lie? I haven't.

Some of us ex-CNN watchers, myself included, just completely turned cable news off. I didn't defect to Fox or MSNBC, I don't watch ANY of it any more. I detest that 1980's-style split-screen combat, scream-fests that leave one having learned exactly nothing for the time invested. They use exactly the same format as the early 1990's, the same odious team of Matalin and Carville, they have hired on about half of the Bush communications staff as "analysts." It seems like CNN just has not bothered to develop any fresh, interesting talent. CNN is ALL beltway hacks. Not a single interesting, talented face in the bunch.

John King, Campbell Brown, Wolf Blitzer, and the rest of the know-nothing, vapid news-readers are boring. They have no particular skills in interviewing or analysis. It seems as though day after day, they are marking time until the next hurricane, the next "missing white woman," the next balloon-boy, while recirculating the beltway gossip of the day. They just don't provide any value at all. Worthless, worthless waste of time.

Personally, I think that the sooner they go off the air completely, the better off we all will be.

Posted by: Tom at April 2, 2010 5:47 PM | Permalink

I would totally watch a new CNN with a lineup like this. Would be tough to get liberals & conservatives to sit thru honest, smart questioning from someone with the opposite viewpoint though.

Posted by: John at April 2, 2010 5:48 PM | Permalink

While I agree with the laundry list of complaints regarding CNN, especially all the he said, she said journalism, there is one thing that, to me, is really the death of that network. And it's Jack Cafferty or Don Lemon telling me, yet again, that @bongoboy57 has tweeted "Obamacare is bad news" or @kittylover thinks that they should "throw the book at Baloon Boy's Dad." CNN will never stop being an SNL scetch about a ridiculous 24hr News Netwrok until they cut that crap out.

Posted by: Scooby Dude at April 2, 2010 5:59 PM | Permalink

Here's something that could help CNN for 3 minutes a week, which is at least something. I don't know why this hasn't become famous already:

Posted by: PressKit at April 2, 2010 10:11 PM | Permalink

Another tip for CNN.
Give us CNN International instead of the super-shallow "reporting" presented now or, even better, just purchase the BBC programing.

Posted by: luc at April 3, 2010 2:36 AM | Permalink

Jay, I think these suggestions are excellent. I think your 'Fact Check' suggestion could be expanded to also be a sort of media criticism show which, like you say, could kind of borrow Jon Stewart's schtick. And I would be especially excited to tune into shows where one side's host interviews the other side. If there were a way to set up a practice of friendly discourse on those shows with only the occasional fireworks, I think they could change the face of cable news.

I think the problem with CNN is that while they've been determined to avoid the ideological bullshit eating of Fox News and to a lesser extent MSNBC, they haven't abandoned the phony baloney infotainment style of cable news delivery. So it looks and sounds the same as Fox News and MSNBC - the ridiculous crawl, the graphics, the apocalyptic 'situation room' style branding - without the intrigue of 'what crazy is next to come out of that hosts mouth.'

I forget who said it in Calderone's piece about looking toward the BBC for some ideas and I think that's smart for their 9-5 coverage. The fact is that they still cut away from the President's first address in New Orleans to give half an hour to balloon boy just like the others did. I think it's hard to maintain any kind of authoritative reputation in your evening hour shows when the rest of the day you're as frivolous as your competition.

Posted by: Eli Ackerman at April 3, 2010 11:45 AM | Permalink

If CNN "played it down the middle", they would merely be boring.
They don't "play it down the middle."
CNN introduces as much liberal (and often anti-American) bias into the "news" as the rest of the lamestream media.

Posted by: graywolf at April 3, 2010 9:53 PM | Permalink

On Twitter this week, I had a conversation about this post with Frank Ahrens, media reporter for the Washington Post and a frequent contributor to American Journalism Review.

Ahrens: Can there be just ONE cable TV news network left that just reports the news without opinion? Is that too much to ask?"

Rosen: You're not listening, Frank. On TV, "just the news" produces he said, she said and the lampoon-able lameness of [CNN leaves it there]

Ahrens: C' can rebut me better than resorting to your junk pitch, a Jon Stewart clip! : -

Rosen: Refuting you? No, Frank: I'm suggesting you pick up on why CNN "leaving it there" is a problem in both credibility and strategy.

Ahrens: I agree on the talking heads aspect of cable TV. I'd just like to see more reporters reporting stories and playing straight.

Whereupon I gave up.

Aherns is in fact the embodiment of what I wrote about in this post in paragraph five: "Almost every time I see this subject addressed CNN is placed in a mental lock box by media reporters who share a component of its ideology but of course don’t acknowledge that. The shared component is that the View from Nowhere, also called 'straight news,' is inherently superior and always preferable."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 4, 2010 1:51 AM | Permalink

You can't be both "the view from nowhere" and "down the middle." The fact that CNN apparently tries to embody both of these explains their failure. Their effort to situate themselves in "the middle" doesn't make them objective. It makes them ideological centrists. This position lends itself to bias as much as anything else. The fact that they think the "center" is somehow inherently rational (despite, for better or worse, being to the right of most of the world) makes them just as obnoxious and myopic as Olbermann or Hannity. It also lends itself to the same sort of aggressive gatekeeping and opinion filtering. On CNN, you know you're going to get the same, narrow range of centrist opinion that condescendingly defends the status quo by dismissing the voiceless (on CNN, at least) "crazies" on the left and right.

Their pretensions about being an impossible "view from nowhere" only reinforces this bias. Again, they assume that creating a platform for what they deem acceptably mainstream, rational opinion makes them objective. It does not. It makes them centrist ideologues who shield themselves from dissenting opinion to the same degree as their leftist and rightist counterparts. The fact that this "center" represents the various big donors that dominate the "middle" of either party means nothing for actual diversity of perspective. It only means low ratings when the vast majority of Americans are feeling a great deal of resentment towards the powerful interests that seem to have hijacked our political process.

Posted by: Erik at April 4, 2010 8:05 AM | Permalink

Jay, thanks for another provocative take about CNN, which is the cable new program I watch now most often. I've been wondering if there wasn't an interesting and important distinction to be made between an opinion and a conclusion. My wife grew up in Rhode Island and worked in one of the grungy jewelry factories there as a teenager. The Providence Journal wrote a persuasive investigative story years ago that had this lead: "Jewelry work in Rhode Island is life at the bottom of industrial America." Through the objectivity frame, that lead clearly looked like opinion to me, sorta out of bounds, until I read the story. The evidence in the story made that lead in inevitable conclusion. Which leads to this question: Is one definition of objectivity an informed conclusion based upon significant evidence?

The problem with carrying this notion over to any form of news today is that checking out the jewelry industry to a point where you can reach that conclusion is time-consuming and expensive, as is the St. Pete Times Pulitzer Prize winning PolitiFact department of political fact checking.

That brings us back to the point where most of us fear to go: the business model. Which news organizations, old or new, are inclined toward this type of news. And where will the money come from to support it.

Posted by: Roy Peter Clark at April 4, 2010 12:54 PM | Permalink

Sure, Roy. Unsupported opinion and ideological reflex are cheaper and that's why they do so much of both on TV. Most journalists understand that much.

But also... He said/she said, "straight down the middle, The View From Nowhere and SAFETY FIRST signs on every floor of the editorial shop are cheaper, too, and this is a large part of the explanation for CNN's insipid-ness.

Here the situation is different. Many journalists--like Frank Ahrens, for example--valorize these cost-saving measures as journalistically superior, when the journalistically superior thing would be to do the work, gather the evidence and draw conclusions, which wouldn't necessarily sound like "straight" reporting, as you point out with your Rhode Island story.

Here's an especially relevant example, Roy.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 4, 2010 1:30 PM | Permalink

the comments on this page is gobly-gook. do you know what that means? the comments on this site do not make any sense. each comment trying to sound so educated and intelligent.

fox is watched more because, #1-they present the news in a fashion that can be understood by everyone, #2 there are two points of view #3 if you want left, watch geraldo and shep #4 if you want right watch megan kelly.

simply stated and understandable.

Posted by: southernsue at April 5, 2010 11:30 AM | Permalink

I don't understand a thing you wrote, Sue. You seem to think Fox is not a right-leaning news organization. Could you speak English and stay within the universe of commonly-accepted facts, please? Thanks.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 5, 2010 11:38 AM | Permalink

Jay, I've been thinking about the "leaves it here" argument, which you are making against reporting actual news and facts only. There's a difference between what CNN has been doing, the "he said, she said" thing without the critical FACT CHECKING, and what a lot of us are advocating.

Are you suggesting commentary is fact-checking and investigative reporting? Because the commentary we're getting seems mostly like a bunch of wild guessing and "experienced" prediction, coupled with a good dose of partisan talking points. You don't need all that nonsense to report that there are no "death panels" in the HCR bill and that CBO estimates are that there will be deficit reduction as a result of HCR, for example. Those things are FACTS.

I think the "he said, she said" comes in when CNN treats both sides talking points as if they have merit, instead of being our fact checker. Let MSNBC and Fox be the propaganda arms of the Left and Right. I think we all have come to expect CNN to give us news and information, and they're ratings have been plummeting ever since they stopped doing that.

Posted by: Teri B. at April 5, 2010 2:09 PM | Permalink

"extremely well informed, free-thinking and rational conservative"

How about a unicorn instead?
Media personalities don't seem to be built this way.

Posted by: dirge at April 5, 2010 2:27 PM | Permalink

Vanity Fair's Andrew Cohen has some ideas about what CNN should do as well:

"I have spent the last 13 years of my life watching CNN. I turn it on in my home office every weekday morning and I turn it off each evening. It has been the soundtrack to my work days, through good times and in bad, for professional reasons and out of personal preference. I have watched it continuously for so long, in fact, that the mere mention of a Jeanne Moos promo makes me throw up a little in my throat."

"CNN should instead go back to being what it once was—an un-slick, un-stylish venue for serious people who want breaking news done well. I am willing to wager a future job at CNN that millions of viewers want it to re-dignify itself; to stop devolving into the worst of television news and instead to rededicate itself to doing a few things exquisitely well."

“Incurious Viewers Need Not Apply” ought to be the new slogan. Absent some genuinely major breaking news, the network ought to provide a fast-paced, deftly written, five-minute newsbreak at the top and the bottom of every hour and then offer viewers a parade of insightful news-magazine-type stories in between. CNN does remarkable reporting in the field, right? So instead of flitting back and forth between minor stories—or stories that really aren’t stories—CNN should let its correspondents and producers in the field produce four-minute news-analysis feature pieces to run between the newsbreaks. Let the people who really know the story drive the narrative. Give the beats back to the beat reporters. Let them unleash their Inner Kuralts."
"There would still be room for politics; still room for Wolf and John and Dana and most of all for Suzanne. But quality would replace quantity. The network would need fewer anchors and more reporters and producers—and isn’t that a refreshing tradeoff these days? It would need fewer “analysts” and “consultants,” because its reporters would be finding and using their own sources as “sound” in their pieces. It won’t be easy—it will require changes in purse strings and priorities. "

Posted by: Teri B. at April 5, 2010 2:32 PM | Permalink

It looks like Ross Douthat's NYT op-ed from yesterday proceeds along similar lines to you, Jay. But he doesn't make the point about what's currently wrong with CNN that viewers are turning away from nearly as clearly as either you or Stewart ("view from nowhere" and "leave it at that", respectively).

Posted by: Sage Ross at April 5, 2010 5:16 PM | Permalink

I agree with Teri B that most of CNN's "leave it there" occurs when moderating pundits engaged in, "wild guessing and 'experienced' prediction, coupled with a good dose of partisan talking points"

This is a very different genre/forum from "he said/she said", "straight down the middle", "The View From Nowhere" reporting of events. Compare Sago Mine reporting with today's Upper Big Branch Mine.

Posted by: Tim at April 6, 2010 7:27 AM | Permalink

The idea expressed frequently in the comments that cable news channel bias can/should be pigeon-holed into "centrist view", "left view", or "right view" is perhaps NOT the most intelligent analysis.

In fact, it strikes me as suffering from the same kind of "cost-saving" thinking and expression that is generating such complaints.

Posted by: Tim at April 6, 2010 7:33 AM | Permalink

Jay, re: "Could you speak English and stay within the universe of commonly-accepted facts, please? Thanks."

Nice job tossing Sue into the sphere of deviance. I always thought this was a nice bringing together of Stewart and the SoD: "The Daily Show succeeds because it is the only show on which views from outside the sphere of legitimate debate can be aired and find an audience."

Posted by: Tim at April 6, 2010 7:53 AM | Permalink

Reporting events as a different genre: "Today, we fell short." vs. "I'm not seeing any obvious missteps."

If your observation is that the news is too often a defective product and standards of workmanship have fallen below what society can reasonably expect, I kinda agree with that. I mean look at Jonathan Klein, head of CNN saying he was perfectly happy with CNN’s coverage of the mining disaster.

Posted by: Tim at April 6, 2010 8:05 AM | Permalink

Ross Douthat writes about this post on his blog:

Why not? It isn’t exactly the prime-time lineup I’d devise: “Fact Check” sounds like it should be a segment on “Politics is Broken,” not an hour-long show in its own right (remember that “The Daily Show” is only 30 minutes), and I think the idea of having a liberal reporting on conservatives, and vice versa, might get old quick. (Note that Dave Weigel’s roots are in libertarianism, not liberalism, which means he has at least something in common with the community he’s covering.) You won’t be surprised to learn, too, that I’d like to see a serious hour-long show focused on religion and/or the culture wars — a kind of serious analogue to the Daily Show’s “This Week in God,” you might say, featuring a nightly interview roundtable that would accommodate new atheists and neo-Calvinists alike.

But these are quibbles: Compared to what CNN has going for it now, Rosen’s lineup sounds inspired. The question is whether anyone would watch it, or whether these are just intellectual fantasies of what a current-events channel should be. It’s possible — nay, likely — that cable news tends toward unserious, polarized shoutfests because that’s the only kind of political show that sells. (Well, that and ideologically-inflected comedy: Hence The Daily Show, Real Time With Bill Maher, etc., which swaddle their serious conversations in satire and farce.)

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 6, 2010 10:43 AM | Permalink

Considering NPR model?

According to The Observer, the CNN test episode featured Mr. Shuster and Michel Martin of National Public Radio.

Posted by: RBS at April 6, 2010 11:05 AM | Permalink

This just in: Could David Shuster Still End up at CNN?

Now that David Shuster is all but finished at MSNBC, is CNN still interested in picking him up?

"We decline comment," said CNN spokeswoman Christa Robinson when asked that question, and a few others, about the situation.

MSNBC put Shuster on indefinite suspension today for participating in the taping of a test run of a news show put together by the CNN talent development group. In any given year, the group will produce 10 to 12 of these so-called pilots, including this one earlier this year. "Since he used to cover Washington for Fox and then he worked for MSNBC it would be a piece of cake for CNN to re-invent Shuster as a newsy host who knows politics and who's mainly about the facts," says NYU professor of journalism and author of PressThink, Jay Rosen. "I think CNN is ideologically committed to The View from Nowhere, which they see as bearing no ideology," Rosen tells TVNewser.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 6, 2010 5:11 PM | Permalink


Posted by: JamesC at April 6, 2010 5:57 PM | Permalink

I remember a segment on Bill Moyers long ago... Jay you were right. The media only wants to present me what it thinks is best for me... Too bad I have to turn to other sources.

CNN has taken too many hours to report this matter.
It's not even on Drudge...

Why bother watching CNN when there isn't any news on it.

If I have to do the hard work myself, why bother watching any cable news.

Posted by: JamesC at April 6, 2010 6:08 PM | Permalink

Why can't I (the reader) get the raw footage and decide on my own what is important? Why is Wikileaks the only one that provides raw footage?

I don't mind being spoonfed if I can always get my hands in the pot of food.

CNN needs real news. Spoonfeeding me something I from the AP or Reuters is easy. I want them to make me think.

Posted by: James C at April 6, 2010 6:12 PM | Permalink

Gee, David Shuster as "a newsy host who knows politics and who's mainly about the facts"?

You mean the David Shuster who characterized the GOP as "all white males with short haircuts . . . it looks like they've sort of become unhinged" . . . who featured a "Hypocrisy Watch" that only targeted conservatives and the GOP, because we all know liberals and Democrats are NEVER hypocrites, who claimed, with no evidence that "conservatives [are] fearmongering over President Obama", because we all know there are absolutely NO philosophical differences with leftwing ideologue Obama, and this "newsy" statement: "The number of lies, perpetuated, promoted by Fox News is just shameful". Facts, please David Shuster, not just leftwing talking points, er, I mean "newsy" "facts".

Yeah, David Shuster should be a winner, right along with "newsy" Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, with everyone who is to the left of Noam Chomsky.

Anyone who thinks David Shuster is "newsy" and is "mainly about the facts" needs to get out more.

Posted by: paladin at April 6, 2010 7:51 PM | Permalink would be a piece of cake for CNN to re-invent Shuster as a newsy host who knows politics and who's mainly about the facts...

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 6, 2010 9:50 PM | Permalink

Here's an example of why I can't wait to see CNN shut down.

Today, they had a segment on a California lawmaker's bill to repeal what almost everyone agrees is an archaic 1950 law that requires doctors to try to "cure" homosexuality. Every mainstream professional medical organization in the psych field agrees that "cure" efforts are ineffective and psychologically harmful. So who does CNN interview? They have a panel with the California lawmaker, and for "balance," they interview a wacko religious nut with no professional credentials but who claims to be a cured gay man. That's it. So "journalism," in CNN's view, meant presenting as fully equivalent the consensus view of psych professionals and the self-delusions of a religious crackpot. Comments on CNN's blog include many variations on "Wow, I never knew homosexuality was curable."

This idiotic search for "balance" WHERE THERE IS NO GENUINE DISPUTE ABOUT THE UNDERLYING ISSUE did nothing but elevate the status of a marginal crackpot view, leave the audience LESS well informed than before, and--what I suppose CNN disclaims any responsibility for--recklessly reinforced what we know if the self-destructive false hope of closeted gay adolescents that the can become straight. What an appalling spectacle.

Die CNN.


Posted by: Steve at April 7, 2010 1:07 AM | Permalink

"Rarely do we see so we such emotion and passion on CNN, but in short, we’d like to see more. Because this is great television" -- Colby Hall at Mediaite.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at April 7, 2010 7:14 PM | Permalink

How To Save CNN by Michael Rosenblum. Notice the summary of this post. "The blogosphere has been filled with solutions to CNN’s problems. They run the spectrum from turning CNN into a liberal version of Fox News (Jay Rosen) to ditching Larry King before rigor mortis sets in live on air (everyone)."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 7, 2010 9:26 PM | Permalink

At CJR, Greg Marx writes Miscast Model: Sure, Jon Stewart’s brilliant. That doesn’t mean CNN should imitate him.

(Is that what I said? Imitate him? Hmmm. Not really. I said CNN needs an answer to Stewart. Okay, so CJR wasn't disagreeing with what I said about Stewart. Well anyway....)

Rosen’s whole lineup is defined by the stance its programs would take: one is “outside-in,” another is for accountability. One is left-on-right, another is right-on-left, and finally the libertarians get their say.

This is all fine as far as it goes, and again, it would probably represent an improvement over CNN’s current offerings. But at a time when there’s pressure on journalists’ capacity to do deep reporting across the industry, it seems perverse to be offering prescriptions that don’t put reporting foremost—that are, essentially, formulas for better talk shows... We need CNN to do what those people can’t do, which is to provide first-rate, wide-ranging, far-reaching reporting.

Outside of natural disasters, of course, CNN doesn’t often provide top-notch reporting. And that, more than anything, is its journalistic failing—not that its talk and analysis is lackluster and aimless, but that it doesn’t provide much in the way of news. Often, it seems not really to be trying: a model that amounts to “get pundits of every stripe to rehash the events of the day in D.C.” is not designed to uncover new stories. But even the efforts to dig deeper often don’t deliver. As Eric Deggans recently wrote of Anderson Cooper’s week-long look at the Church of Scientology, the programming “didn’t present much information readers of the St. Petersburg Times series haven’t already seen… it was a bit disappointing to see so little new information presented.” That pretty much sums it up.

Maybe there’s no way around this problem. Maybe, as Hirschorn suggests elsewhere, CNN’s time as a newsmaker and storyteller has passed, and it just doesn’t have the journalistic chops to undertake the deep reporting that’s needed to stand out in an era of ubiquitous headlines. And that’s setting aside the question of how it would be paid for. But as long as we’re floating pie-in-the-sky fixes, we might as well design ones that, if realized, would give us something we’re missing.

My reply at CJR: (Can't link to comments there, so I am reproducing it here)

Greg: Thanks for your piece.

I think you're missing the connection between the View From Nowhere and the painfully thin reporting you complain about. You write:

"But even the efforts to dig deeper often don’t deliver. As Eric Deggans recently wrote of Anderson Cooper’s week-long look at the Church of Scientology, the programming 'didn’t present much information readers of the St. Petersburg Timesseries haven’t already seen… it was a bit disappointing to see so little new information presented.' That pretty much sums it up."

Actually, no. Equally important to summing it up is the part you edited out. Here's the full quote.

"Unfortunately, the show didn't present much information readers of the St. Petersburg Times series haven't already seen, balancing the on camera allegations of many of the former top-level Scientologists featured in our reports with vehement denials from former colleagues and ex-spouses still inside the church."

See what I mean? Get the allegations. Get the denials. No one can accuse you of having a view. Now you're done.

I understand that to you my prescriptions just sound like a line-up of talk shows and who needs more talk shows? But here's what I'd like you to consider: maybe the need to maintain the view from nowhere is the reason there's such thin reporting at CNN.

Think about it: Past a certain point, the investigators for the St.Pete Times probably formed a view that the Church of Scientology was unwilling to face dissent and very willing to silence it. In other words, their reporting led to a conclusion. But if coming to a conclusion like that threatens the view from nowhere and the view from nowhere must be maintained, it just won't happen. Reporters and producers will steer away from those subjects or leave off before they get to the awful point of decision. As Jon Stewart said, the characteristic trait CNN exhibits as a news organization is the act of "leaving it there." We have to grasp the connection between this leave-taking and the view from nowhere.

My imaginary line-up wasn't just a blue-sky exercise for creating a better talk show culture. It was an attempt to show that you could drop the View from Nowhere, which is interfering with truth-telling at CNN, without choosing to be a "left wing" force or a "right wing" network. This is a necessary step before CNN recovers its reporting chops. Why does CNN excel at disaster reporting? Because disasters are usually caused by "nature" or fate; politically, they are innocent topics. The View from Nowhere is never threatened, so CNN can go to work.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 8, 2010 3:50 PM | Permalink

re: "Outside of natural disasters, of course, CNN doesn’t often provide top-notch reporting." & "Why does CNN excel at disaster reporting?"

By what measure does CNN excel at disaster reporting?

Some of the most emotional, confrontational and "out of control" journalists effectively advanced their careers via their "wild" and provocative performances in the early hours of Katrina coverage. Anderson Cooper of CNN, for one, saw his ratings numbers go up sharply following his on location Katrina reports. Following news of Cooper's ratings boon, Cooper's boss, CNN President Jon Klein, predictably praised the journalist, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he liked the "emotional Cooper." He also commented that Cooper was "about visceral experience" while the other CNN anchors were more about "cerebral analysis".

Posted by: Tim at April 8, 2010 7:29 PM | Permalink

Jonathan Chait in The New Republic, Libertarian Electoral Fantasies.

Practically speaking, the libertarian vote is non-existent, while the opposite viewpoint -- economically liberal and socially conservative, which some call populist -- is quite large. This fact tends to get lost in the political discussion because the political discussion is run by elites who are far closer to libertarianism than the public as a whole. (Case in point: Press critic Jay Rosen recently suggested CNN divvy its evening lineup into left/right/libertarian blocs, ignoring the vastly larger populist segment of the electorate.) Populist voters simple lack any intellectual infrastructure whatsoever.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 9, 2010 9:48 AM | Permalink

Greg Marx replies at CJR. See Miscast Model: Sure, Jon Stewart’s brilliant. That doesn’t mean CNN should imitate him.

Hi Jay –

Thanks for your reply, and for your role in getting this conversation started.

I’m not sure that we’re disagreeing as much as emphasizing different parts of the equation. If I’m reading correctly, I’m saying getting the right stance isn’t enough; you need to do great reporting too. You’re saying dropping the view from nowhere is “a necessary step before CNN recovers its reporting chops,” because an unwillingness to follow your reporting to a conclusion means you won’t do any worthwhile reporting in the first place. (For the record—I elided the Deggans quote to save some words, not to be artful, but you make a good point by retrieving the rest of it.) Those are compatible, I think, especially if we can agree that dropping the view from nowhere is necessary but not sufficient. I was just troubled, a little, that your piece didn’t talk more about the role for actual reporting, and troubled further that the other commentators who cited you talked even less about it, so I wanted to push back a bit.

Also – I think your point about the politically innocent nature of disaster reporting, and how that’s convenient for CNN, is very apt. But the other thing that I found a bit frustrating about your lineup was that (to me) it felt narrowly, and almost schematically, political. I know there are market- and budget-related reasons for it, but the presumption that national politics, narrowly defined, will always dominate cable news unless there’s some big disaster or attention-grabbing spot news (balloon boy?) is problematic. Obviously most (all?) interesting stories will have some political valence, and many (most?) will intersect with ongoing policy debates and political struggles. But it’s a great big country, and I think it would be valuable, journalistically, for CNN, and the other networks, to expand their sense of what’s news.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 10, 2010 12:48 PM | Permalink

I normally follow CNN after years of being mislead by fox. I think CNN has their reporting to the tee but can work on their analysis of the actual story.

Posted by: Jay Was Here at April 10, 2010 1:22 PM | Permalink

Why does CNN excel at disaster reporting? Because disasters are usually caused by "nature" or fate; politically, they are innocent topics.

Of course, we know better...

...Hurricane Katrina? Rising sea levels caused by global warming. Depleted wetlands caused by eco-unfriendly land use. Shoddy levees caused by botched engineering and patronage-ridden maintenance. Vulnerable communities below sea level populated disproportionately by the poor, legatees of Jim Crow.

...Haiti? A stronger earthquake in Chile killed far fewer than a weaker earthquake in Port-au-Prince. Don't blame nature. Blame poverty.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at April 10, 2010 2:52 PM | Permalink

That's right, Andy. There were no politics involved in CNN's Katrina disaster reporting about the President, poverty, and racism.


Posted by: Tim at April 10, 2010 6:50 PM | Permalink

Wise up. It's not whether a disaster story is "cured" of politics, but whether CNN people can easily think of it that way. Katrina is actually an exception, a very politicized disaster. A better example would be Hurricane Andrew or brush fires in Southern California.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 10, 2010 8:17 PM | Permalink

Jay, telling someone to "wise up" doesn't strengthen your theory that CNN "excels" at disaster reporting or that "political innocence" plays a role in the quality of CNN's disaster reporting.

Posted by: Tim at April 10, 2010 8:58 PM | Permalink

How are we supposed to look back 17+ years (Hurricane Andrew) for an example of CNN excelling as disaster reporting? Is that what Jay Rosen and Greg Marx had in mind when saying CNN excels at disaster reporting?

Haiti coverage: 'Disaster porn'?

Jon Stewart: "Rick Sanchez reports on the tsunami warning the way a coked-up guy at a party would explain the strength of ants."

Posted by: Tim at April 11, 2010 10:12 AM | Permalink

Since we are going all the way back to Hurricane Andrew to establish CNN's pedigree, let's revisit the two major news events from the '90s that established CNN's reputation as a leader in its field: the Gulf War and the OJ Simpson trial. I suspect that the View From Nowhere was not embraced during the Gulf War since Saddam Hussein was hardly a candidate for evenhanded treatment in a he-said-she-said debate. The OJ Simpson trial is another matter.

In covering criminal trials, journalists have an ethical duty to maintain the presumption of innocence and a civic duty to allow justice to be seen to be done. Surely, this is one field of reporting in which the View From Nowhere is the preferred ideological vantage point not a flawed one.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at April 11, 2010 1:15 PM | Permalink

CNN interviewed Saddam Hussein on October 29, 1990. Shaw arrived in Baghdad January 13, 1991, for a second interview.

CNN Desert Storm Videos

In 2001, Shaw said:

Question from the chat room: Do you have any regrets about being in Baghdad during the bombing?

Bernard Shaw: My lone regret is that the interview with Saddam fell through. It was imperative that the Iraqi side of the war be covered and reported as best we could, given the censorship.
In 2003: The News We Kept To Ourselves

Posted by: Tim at April 11, 2010 3:19 PM | Permalink

CNN Hurricane Andrew 1992 Homestead, Fla Video

Posted by: Tim at April 11, 2010 3:44 PM | Permalink

Tim -- are you arguing that the imperative to cover and report on the Iraqi side of the war as best as possible amounts to the same thing as having a View From Nowhere? I believe that it is possible to have a View From Somewhere even after making every effort to report on views that eventually one will decide not to validate. Surely you are not saying that reporting Saddam Hussein's position thoroughly is journalistically equivalent to accepting it without judgment or evaluation. Regards -- Andrew

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at April 11, 2010 6:15 PM | Permalink

Andrew -- I think CNN attempted to report Saddam Hussein's position thoroughly without judgment or evaluation. I think CNN in 1990-91 wanted to be seen as a Citizen of the World.

Apparently, CNN did get a follow-on interview in January with Saddam.

Posted by: Tim at April 11, 2010 6:59 PM | Permalink

Fixed link: Saddam talks to CNN's Peter Arnett

Posted by: Tim at April 11, 2010 7:17 PM | Permalink

My 11 pm show would be called Spin Dry. News with a grunge rock twist. Focus on human rights abuses, government and corporate corruption, and conspiracy theories/cover-ups. Mix in some dry/dark humor and hip guest anchors from the rock or entertainment world. Co-produced by Spin Magazine with contributions from ACLU, CREW, Public Citizen, Common Cause, Amnesty International, etc.

Posted by: Paul at April 12, 2010 3:26 AM | Permalink

Renouncing judgment and evaluation as appropriate and necessary journalistic functions would, if true, indeed be evidence that CNN embraced the View From Nowhere even as early as 1990-91.

If true, this would undercut Rosen's argument that CNN's recent unpopularity is caused by its increasing timidity, since it would be evidence that CNN was committed to the View From Nowhere even in the days when it was more popular than it is now.

However, neither Bob Franken's phrase Citizen of the World, discussed at PressThink in 2005, nor CNN's success at landing an interview with Saddam Hussein is evidence that CNN disavowed judgment and evaluation all those years ago.

Christiana Amanpour certainly refused to adopt the View From Nowhere during the Siege of Sarajevo.

On the contrary, the very phrase Citizen of the World implies a View From Somewhere (even though it was a view that Rosen criticized as overly innocent in 2005). To present oneself, journalistically, as a Citizen of the World is to claim the moral filter of rights and duties (citizenship) to judge the actions on which one reports; and to adopt a multicultural and universalist (the world) perspective, treating the distinctive mores and values of a given culture as being sociologically and historically constructed rather than natural or normal.

Thus a Citizen of the World could easily make the “judgment” and “evaluation” that Saddam Hussein had violated international law by invading Kuwait; and that the Emirate of Kuwait was manipulating its privileged position as pliant supplier of oil to the United States and its allies in order to enjoy extraordinary military intervention on its behalf.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at April 12, 2010 11:41 AM | Permalink

9 pm: Green Shoots. Ecology and environmental news, plus health, wellness, child development, food, nature travel.

10 pm: Flash Back. News from an unflinching historical perspective. How we got where we are today in politics, economics, culture. No sanitized history, this show confronts the good, bad and the ugly.

Early evening: Stay with Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer but let them say what they really think.

Posted by: Paul at April 12, 2010 11:47 AM | Permalink

re: If true, this would undercut Rosen's argument that CNN's recent unpopularity is caused by its increasing timidity, since it would be evidence that CNN was committed to the View From Nowhere even in the days when it was more popular than it is now.

I'll let Jay answer for himself, but I don't think that's his argument. I think his position is that the View from Nowhere, which might have worked in the past, does not work today. That CNN's View from Nowhere voicelessness has been increasingly hurting the network and is not worth keeping today.

re: ... evidence that CNN disavowed judgment and evaluation all those years ago....Citizen of the World implies a View From Somewhere...

I think CNN set aside judgment and evaluation in its reporting to maintain access to Saddam Hussein. I don't think CNN, as a network, in all cases, decided to disavow judgment and evaluation. I don't think the View From Nowhere means disavowing judgment and evaluation. In fact, I think the View from Nowhere is a View from Somewhere.

When you have an obligation to remain outside the arena, it is also tempting to feel above the partisans who are struggling within that arena. (But then where else are they going to struggle?) You learn the attractions of a view from nowhere. The daily gift of detachment keeps giving, until you’re almost “above” anyone who tries to get too political with you, or at least in the middle with the microphone between warring factions. There’s power in that; and where there’s power, there’s attraction.

Posted by: Tim at April 12, 2010 6:39 PM | Permalink

For retired CNN chief Tom Johnson, Macon will always be home

TELEGRAPH: So what is the future of journalism?

JOHNSON: I do not know. I think a great deal about that. I do not know. I am deeply troubled by the reduction of reporters at quality news organizations. The reporters are the — they’re the watchdogs of our society.

TELEGRAPH: Back into television — do you ever look at some of the shows on the cable news network these days and say, “What have we wrought?”

JOHNSON: I do. I look at some of the highly opinionated, angry talk shows that trouble me the most. I sometimes worry that it may have been that we originated some of that with, for example, “Crossfire.” But at least on “Crossfire” you always had a liberal and conservative. ... But we were one of the earliest of the confrontational show producers.

Posted by: Tim at April 12, 2010 8:53 PM | Permalink

CNN Will Cancel 'Crossfire' and Cut Ties to Commentator

Mr. Klein said he intended to keep CNN's highest-rated program, "Larry King Live," much as it is because Mr. King does not do "head-butting debate" but "personality-oriented television."

The rest of CNN's prime-time lineup will be moving toward reporting the day's events and not discussing them, he said.

Mr. Klein said he had no intention of changing that approach, but he added a caveat. "Not unless the first batch of things we're trying to do don't turn out well," he said.

Posted by: Tim at April 12, 2010 9:39 PM | Permalink

Re: I don't think the View From Nowhere means disavowing judgment and evaluation

Tim -- my reading of Rosen’s ur-piece on the View From Nowhere back in 2003 makes me disagree with you. There, Rosen suggests that the VFM is the one journalists adopt, defensively, to avoid accusations of ideological bias. Their mechanism is to dispense with their own assessment of the validity of the arguments on which they are reporting and to substitute it with a formulaic search for a “reasonable middle ground” where critics crying bias have a “symmetrical existence.”

To me, that means the VFM makes no value judgment, no evaluation, of the merits of rival arguments; instead it makes a mechanical calculation to find a notional midpoint between them. That is why the view is from Nowhere (such a midpoint is adopted by no actual participant in the discussion) not Somehwere.

Regards -- Andrew

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at April 13, 2010 10:08 AM | Permalink

Andrew -- OK, you disagree with me.

I think there's a great discussion lurking concerning the differences/similarities between:

View from Nowhere/The Abyss of Observation Alone
Objectivity as a Stance vs. Process
Centrism as Ideology/Bias
Nonpartisan/Bipartisan as Ideology/Bias

I like thinking about these in terms of journalistic Epistemology/History/Bias

Something Jay once wrote that struck me was Half Baked, Fully Loaded:

I don't like bipartisan as the essential discipline or starting point but I do like "no party line."

Posted by: Tim at April 13, 2010 6:24 PM | Permalink

From the Intro