A little over a year ago, I noted the success that CNN had with a program on Osama Bin Laden that was part of its “CNN Presents” series of long-form news. The program was number one in its time period and was one of the few occasions that CNN bested its arch-rival Fox. At the time I asked:
“What are the odds that the editors at CNN will correctly analyze what happened here? […} will they figure out that there is a news vacuum in America that is crying out to be filled?”
Apparently not. In the past year, CNN has barely budged its place in the cable news net rankings. It actually declined 9%. In the same span of time, MSNBC has increased its viewership 53%, led by the Olbermann locomotive with a 73% rise. For the record, Fox News Channel was down 10%.
Now, the question I asked last year needs to asked again. In the latest report (pdf) for the the 3rd quarter of 2007, the number one program in the 25-54 demo is CNN Presents. It is also number two in total viewers, and is one of only two programs in the top 10 that is not from Fox (the other is CNN’s Larry King Live at #8).
Will CNN now recognize that the best way to compete with Fox’s tabloid coverage of car chases, missing white girls, and bashing Democrats, is to give the audience substance in the form of news that is accurate and relevant to their lives? Why is this such a difficult lesson to learn? Week after week, the networks competing with the Fox Propaganda Channel seem to be in a race to the bottom of the journalism barrel. Their meager attempts to emulate the worst of all possible role models cannot help but fail. Not only because it is a poor strategy, but because they can’t hope to woo viewers away from Fox’s authentic garbage with their own brand of contrived garbage.
Americans are thirsting for honest journalism that informs and enlightens. They want their news to be placed in a context that respects the integrity of the subject matter and the intelligence of the audience. When this is done, the networks get viewers and advertisers, as this quarter’s CNN Presents demonstrates. When it is not done they get Glenn Beck and Tucker Carlson. Carlson, by the way, came in dead last in the 3-net beauty contest.
So pay attention CNN, and any other wannabe responsible news organizations. Try as you might with the likes of Nancy Grace or Lou Dobbs, the only time you come out ahead is when you give the people what they’re clamoring for. Honesty, integrity, and a commitment to ethics and excellence, is the path to success. CNN Presents is not a fluke. It is the only program that has prevailed against Foxic waste, and it has now done so twice. Are you getting the message?