Story location:

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…)

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