The News Dies

Andrew Sullivan asks if we are seeing the end of cable news

 

One reason that cable has become more about entertainment or live-video “happening-now” marathons than, well, news is that most people now get their actual information online. Increasingly, of course, most people get their news and opinion online. Hello, guys!

 

What he’s referring to is the Andrew Hampp item in Ad Age, CNN the TV Channel Is No Match for CNN the Website

 

“We’re all pretty convinced that news doesn’t break on TV anymore,” said Eric Bader, senior VP-managing director of digital connections at MediaVest. “Almost everybody across pretty much every economic and age demographic learns of breaking news online, increasingly on mobile.”

 

Sullivan –

 

Perhaps cable news isn’t thereby “assaulting reason,” as Al Gore would have it. Perhaps cable content is merely adjusting to a new combination of technology and the marketplace. Reason and the information haven’t disappeared. They are just being served elsewhere. What has changed is the ability of a few media outlets to dictate to Americans what is good for them to watch and read, and to control the information flow for most Americans. I know why some liberals regret this. They often regret it when people have freedom to ignore their lectures and bromides. But any media that allows me to filter out Al Gore – or not, if I so wish – is fine by me.

 

Well, that cuts both ways.  The net allows those of us on the left likewise to have the freedom to ignore the lectures and bromides of the likes of Bill O’Reilly and such, although some of us do look into what’s being said anywhere.  Still, we live in an interesting new world – you can scan any source you want, and breaking news is available instantaneously.  Many of us grew up in an age when one got the breaking news from newspapers, in the evening or the next morning, or the from the twenty-two minutes of notes that appeared at six-thirty on the black and white television starting in the fifties.  Radio news didn’t amount to much back then – save for a “break in” with something spectacular like a war starting or an assassination.  And our parents learned of things from newsreels in movie theaters a few times a week.  How odd.

 

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, part of the small team that started CNN in 1980, comments –

 

This is interesting.

 

For one thing, it reminds me of my imaginings, in the pre-CNN days. Back in the late seventies, as I would begin my daily subway ride to work at ITNA (Independent Television News Association), a satellite news co-op of U.S. TV stations, I’d buy the New York Times at the station and find myself catching up on all the news stories I had helped put on the nation’s TV sets the night before!

 

So ITNA was better than the New York Times? No, but since it traveled through the air rather than through a printing press and a truck, it certainly was quicker. Someday, I imagined, there would be a news medium that combined the speed of TV news with the depth and quality of the New York Times, and would probably be a wireless text/graphics service.

 

Some time after I had left CNN, I tried to be a pioneer and co-inventor of that new medium when I joined with Motorola’s wireless email system called EMBARC, hoping to use the system to broadcast news via text and graphics on to pocket PDA’s. It flopped. Why? Partly because Motorola, I am now convinced, was using its frequency resources as “vaporware” and was never going to fight to keep that platform alive, and partly because nobody was going to be able to “own” that business. At one point, I even pitched my friends at CNN to put their news onto cell phones; they turned me down, but later did it themselves. My friend, Larry Jarvik (nephew of the guy who invented the “Jarvik Heart”), urged me to sue them, but I knew that lots of people were coming up with this idea at the same time, so I had no case.

 

But yeah, Andrew Sullivan has a point. Still, I’m not sure there still aren’t more people today who get their information from TV than the web. Anyone who doesn’t believe that should try their own informal unscientific poll by asking everyone they meet at random if they’ve ever heard of (a) Katie Couric, (b) Wolf Blitzer, and (c) Andrew Sullivan.

 

Still the Andrew Hampp item points out that the breaking-news model that Rick’s twenty-four-hour network built its reputation on now best suits its website –

 

“I worry about CNN more than I do about CNN.com.”

 

Many news junkies already feel the same way, but when the person expressing concern about the state of the 24-hour TV news network is Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons, the guy who ultimately runs both properties, it’s pretty telling.

 

Mr. Parsons, who was discussing the company’s entire portfolio at a London media conference last week, was positive on the subject of AOL (“we have it in a nice track”) and slightly less effusive about Time Inc. (“they are going to be around for a long time, but they’re not going to grow like they have in the past”) but bordering on pessimistic about the state of his cable-news operation.

 

He has reason to be.  CNN’s ratings have been dropping since 2003 – 689,000 households tuning in each day then, and 383,000 a day last year, although for the first six months of this year, it’s back up to 431,000 a day.  Fox News usually doubles that.  But then traffic continues to climb at CNN.com – unique users up nearly twenty-five percent in a year, with twenty-six million in April.  Then you have the ninety million worldwide subscribers to CNN Mobile (Rick should have sued).  The conclusion – “CNN’s breaking-news model fits in better online among sit-forward viewers than it does in the sit-back environment of America’s living rooms.”

 

Of course television news is not that important –

 

CNN ranks third among Time Warner’s cable properties in its reach to key demos, behind TNT and TBS, which regularly reel in three million to four million viewers in prime time. CNN occasionally gets about half that for special-event coverage.

 

It is just news, after all.  And that may be the problem –

 

Fox News built its audience by realizing it didn’t need to rely solely on news, larding its shows with plenty of opinion and hiring hosts un-shy about expressing their views, making for a more entertaining experience. In the new news landscape, an influential blogger’s opinion can carry as much weight as a New York Times editorial, and Fox News has become adept at adopting a strong point of view, much like talk radio has done for years. That’s led viewers to treat the cable channel more like radio, a companion throughout the day. CNN, with its roots firmly entrenched in a more traditional approach to journalism, built its reputation on its ability to deliver breaking news 24 hours a day and essentially trained its audience to tune in for headlines. The web has taken away that core mission, and CNN has since struggled to find a new approach that doesn’t feel like just the liberal version of Fox News.

 

There you have it.  You need a hook.  Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide, gets it – “We don’t have as high ratings because the CNN viewer doesn’t spend as much time watching.”  There are too many other platforms now.  And it seems that since 2003, CNN’s cable revenue has dropped eleven percent while digital revenue has almost doubled. Jim Walton says he wants to make sure that if the audience is tuning out on cable, it’s tuning in to CNN somewhere else – “What we want to do is be able to serve our news anywhere in the world at any time on any platform.”

 

They shouldn’t have laughed at Rick, now happily retired (or not unhappily retired) in Atlanta.

 

And by the way, you still cannot cheat, paying to have a story staged –

 

June 8, 2007 – The steamy e-mails that landed a CNN reporter in the news and out of a job detailed more than his adulterous affair – they revealed that the Africa correspondent apparently admitted paying militiamen to help him stage a story, according to several sources.

 

For months, Jeff Koinange had been dogged by allegations that in February, he paid off gunmen to put on a show for a story about Nigerian resistance.

 

The accusations from Nigerian government officials were so strong that CNN gave a denial during a February broadcast.

 

“CNN did not pay for or stage any part of the report,” anchor John Roberts said. “CNN does not pay for interviews.”

 

But a Swiss author – in an e-mail to Koinange’s boss, CNN Worldwide President Jim Walton – details a months-long romance with Koinange, and quotes the correspondent as saying he traded cash for the story.

 

“Of course I had to pay certain people to get the story,” Koinange says, according to the e-mail.

 

“But everything was done in agreement with CNN and in accordance with their usual standards. But you do not get such a story without bribing. … But at the end, it was worth it. CNN has its story and I have my ‘fame.'”

 

That a no-no.

 

And then there the other curious press item, Alan Cowell in the New York Times with this – In Parting Shot, Blair Calls Press a ‘Feral Beast’ 

 

What?  See the opening –

 

In the land that produced “Scoop,” Evelyn Waugh’s novel of journalistic ambition and ineptitude, it would seem unsurprising for politicians to criticize reporters on occasion.  But was it justified, as Prime Minister Tony Blair did today, to call the press a “feral beast”?

 

It seems Blair was saying things like this – “The fear of missing out means today’s media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack. In these modes it is like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits. But no one dares miss out.”

 

He seems a bit bitter.  But then he does see what Jim Walton and Richard Parsons see at CNN –

 

The media are facing a hugely more intense form of competition than anything they have ever experienced before. They are not the masters of this change but its victims. The result is a media that increasingly and to a dangerous degree is driven by ‘impact.’ Impact is what matters. It is all that can distinguish, can rise above the clamor, can get noticed. Impact gives competitive edge. Of course, the accuracy of a story counts. But it is secondary to impact.

 

The world has changed – or not.  Ann Althouse isn’t buying this

 

My first instinct – feral, I suppose – is to rubbish this. Public figures will always complain about the press, and competition among media is the marketplace of ideas. What’s new is that the media itself is subjected to instant and vigorous scrutiny.

 

Yeah, all the bloggers, or at least the influential ones, have them looking over their shoulders and getting all strange.

 

And the infighting doesn’t help

 

Dan Rather calls Katie Couric a dumbed-down tart. At least, that’s the favored interpretation of the former CBS anchor’s comments yesterday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Rather said Couric – his successor, by the way – is nice and all, but it was a mistake “to try to bring the ‘Today’ ethos to the evening news and to dumb it down, tart it up, in hopes of attracting a younger audience.” CBS Corp. chief executive Leslie Moonves has already called the comment “sexist.” Sadly, Nerve’s Scanner reports: “Couric could not be reached for comment, as she was too busy putting on her fishnets and stilettos for tonight’s broadcast.”

 

Yipes!  What is THAT all about?

 

See Marisa Guthrie at Broadcasting & Cable with this

 

Leslie Moonves, President and CEO, CBS Corporation, called former CBS News anchor Dan Rather’s comments that the CBS Evening News has been “tarted up” under new anchor Katie Couric, “sexist” and a “cheap shot.”

 

Speaking Tuesday at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School breakfast conversation series, Moonves said he has “a great deal of faith in (Couric)” to reverse the show’s declining ratings trend.

 

Rather’s remarks came during a phone call on Joe Scarborough’s MSNBC program Monday.

 

And there’s this detail on the hooks you need to use –

 

While Moonves conceded that the show’s early attempt to distinguish itself by loading up on feature segments backfired, he countered that Couric has attracted a younger audience.

 

“They tried to put on a different kind of news show …to attract a different kind of viewer,” he said, adding that under executive producer Rick Kaplan, who came aboard in March, the newscast has reverted to its hard news roots.

 

But with the average broadcast news viewer, “north of 60,” said Moonves, it’s imperative that the format find a way to attract younger viewers.

 

Hey – it’s tough out there.  Maybe it’s time to give up on the evening network news thing.

 

Oh, and it’s going to get tougher.  The newly streamlined Los Angeles Times – dumping its Pulitzer Prize writer as fast as possible – decided to publish Jonah Goldberg arguing it’s time.  Government is inept at running schools.  It should subsidize education for needy students… then get out of the way.  Let’s do away with public schools –

 

Here’s a good question for you: Why have public schools at all?   OK, cue the marching music.  We need public schools because blah blah blah and yada yada yada.

 

He says private schools – and one assumes particularly Christian academies, where parents know their children will never exposed to anything the parents have been told isn’t in the Bible – are just fine.  The market will determine what the best education is, and we can provide vouchers to life’s sorry-ass losers, so they too can play the market for what it provides –

 

Americans want universal education, just as they want universally safe food. But nobody believes that the government should run 90% of the restaurants, farms and supermarkets. Why should it run 90% of the schools – particularly when it gets terrible results.

 

It’s just more of the same

 

Once in a while, a high-profile Republican will suggest abolishing the federal Department of Education, which is a common conservative boogeyman. Eventually, however, GOP pollsters insisted that their candidates stop even trying – voters perceived the calls to get rid of the cabinet agency as being anti-education.

 

But Goldberg, to his credit, is far more direct – he’s skipping the Department of Education and recommending the abolishment of the entire public school system.

Using the Republican campaign tactic as a guide, I’d like to hear “conservatives want to destroy public education in the United States” catch on as a policy meme. Let’s see how that works out for the right.

 

I have a hunch Goldberg’s idea would not garner much support. I’ve found that local public schools are a bit like members of Congress – people hate them generally, but love theirs specifically. Indeed, there are plenty of polls asking people what they think of public education, and most show widespread dissatisfaction. But if you ask those same respondents what they think of the school in their area, they’re generally quite pleased.

 

I suppose Goldberg deserves points for boldness. In 1979, Jerry Falwell published a book in which he wrote, “I hope to live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won’t have any public schools.” For years, Falwell denied ever having written it, though his publisher later insisted that Falwell was lying.

 

The point, of course, was that Falwell didn’t want to be associated with such a radical idea, so he distanced himself from his own book. Goldberg has no such hesitation.

 

OK, conservatives everywhere, who’s ready to jump on his abolish-public-schools bandwagon? Anyone?

 

 

We’ll see.  And note this comment – “If you want to find the best schools for your children, find out where Jonah Goldberg went. Then send your kids somewhere else.” 

In any event, given this sort of thinking going mainstream (the LA Times perhaps getting a handle on its preferred new readership), that just makes the job harder for the news people.  The new demographic will not want news at all.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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