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Wednesday, March 23, 2005


So, I'm reading the Times this morning and I come across an indicting, straight-to-the-point article spelling out exactly what is wrong with the RWCM and the resulting threat to our democracy. However, there was no mention of such in the title or body of the article.

The article was titled,

CNN Seeks New Ways to Battle Fox News

It seems the folks at CNN/Time/Warner have had their corporate panties in a bunch for the past four years about profits and ratings...or shall I say lack of them. Fox has been kicking their ass.

Their answer? To go through five heads of domestic operations in four years looking for that magic touch that will bring them closer to advertising gold. The most recent new head is Jonathan Klein.

How does he plan to take CNN to the promised land? It doesn't seem to be on the back of the donkey of journalistic excellence and accuracy.

Let's have a view into their thinking:

Mr. Klein has told his staff that that he wants to increase the average amount of time viewers spend watching CNN's prime-time lineup by an average of 30 seconds a month for the next 12 months - for what would be a total gain of six minutes.

Lest there be any doubt that those six minutes are crucial, consider the following: the typical viewer who tunes in to Fox News's prime-time lineup - including the programs of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity - watches for an average of 26 minutes before switching channels, according to CNN's internal research. On average, viewers tune out CNN's prime-time hosts - including Mr. Brown, Mr. King and Paula Zahn - after just 19 minutes.

That gap in average viewing time has had a profound impact on CNN's ratings: thus far this season, its average audience between 7 and 11 p.m. (775,000) is far less than Fox's during the same time period (two million) , according to Nielsen Media Research. (As recently as four years ago, CNN was drawing more viewers than Fox News at night.)

Meeting Mr. Klein's goal would have a tangible impact on the network's bottom line - a former executive at another network estimated that those extra six minutes of viewing time could add more than $10 million to CNN's annual advertising revenue, which, according to TNS Media Intelligence, was nearly $440 million. To do so, Mr. Klein will have to somehow locate a holy grail that has thus far eluded his immediate predecessors.

This is what clued me in to the unintended true topic of this article. In the entire narrative about Mr. Klein's dilemma and proposed solution, there was no mention of journalistic ethics or quality news reporting.

The only reference to editorial content was:

In an effort to narrow the gap with Fox at night, Mr. Klein has ruled out one obvious option: he will not, he says, turn CNN's prime-time lineup into a liberal counterpunch to Fox's opinion-driven programming, which draws a heavily conservative audience. "It's much better to be right down the middle," Mr. Klein said in an interview. "Moderates are our sweet spot."

Now you might be gagging at the "sweet spot" reference as I did, but there is a more troubling issue reflected in both the article's content and what it ignored.

This was a rather prominently placed column (front page Arts Section) about programming at a 24 Hour News Outlet and not a single word was devoted to the quality of their product. They had plenty to say about packaging:

...the network's prime-time programs should spend less time reporting the news of the day and more time spinning out what he hopes are emotionally gripping, character-driven narratives pegged to recent events.

It is not insignificant that he is being advised in this effort by Joel Cheatwood, a former news executive in Miami and Chicago who is well known for using loud sound effects to amplify crime stories...

In a segment last Wednesday on the program "Paula Zahn Now," for example, Rick Sanchez, a former local news anchor who worked for Mr. Cheatwood in Miami and who joined CNN last year, strapped on a device known as a shock belt - worn around the waist, it can deliver 50,000 volts of electricity to a person's body - and then gave a simple command: "Do it."
Moments later, Mr. Sanchez moaned audibly, crumpled to the floor, and, still panting after being helped to his feet, reported: "It hurts. It's painful. But no one's dead."

And Klein was thrilled!!!!!!
It seems that the media has become, "All hat and no cowboy," and the fact that the Times gave no nod to the implicit irony woven into this story, is doubly troubling.

It seems we may have to do the real investigating and reporting ourselves.

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