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It’s Not Science, It’s CNN

Any dope could fix a cable news network. Except guys like Jeff Zucker.

by
David Steinberg

Bio

December 11, 2012 - 12:00 am

Certain positions just do not require elite thinking or training; if the positions are sufficiently powerful, artificial benchmarks are created to winnow the pool, with terrible results. The worst results being that folks start to believe the artificial benchmarks are meaningful. When the path to success is easy to comprehend, the only persons who could screw it up are the folks who:

A) think it takes a genius, and;

B) confuse “it guy” with genius.

Anyway: welcome to Columbus Circle, Mr. Zucker. You had success at the Today show. But then you vaporized — I mean absolutely vaporized — NBC. Yet due to A) and B) above, you are now the head of CNN. I hear you have solid connections.

So far, you have not disappointed. Your initial press appearance as CNN head included the following unbearably wonderful line:

We have to remain true to the journalistic values that are the hallmark of CNN, and also continue to broaden the definition of what news is.

Note he doesn’t say he wants to broaden what CNN is. He wants to broaden “what news is.” Under Zucker, items that did not previously fit the definition of news may now be considered news.

For example: “Howard Dean bathed.” Technically, this is in fact news. Yet with Jeff Zucker’s vision, perhaps “Howard Dean’s shampoo” could also be news. Verbs may no longer be required in the Situation Room. Wolf could dedicate a segment — “Broadening with Blitzer” — wherein he recites various nouns and adverbs:

Noodles. Merrily, merrily. Optimus Prime. Noodles.

If — and I’m meeting Zucker waaaaaay past halfway here — he meant he wants to redefine what a cable news channel is, what he is actually proposing is that CNN cease to be a cable news channel. He wants some kind of hybrid, which would broadcast news, and also things that are not news, things which are properly called “entertainment.”

Zucker did offer up some leads in this direction at the conference:

“I think our competition today is anybody that competes for eyeballs and attention and produces non-fiction programming,” Zucker said. “News is about more than politics and war, we need to broaden that definition of what news is, while maintaining the standards of CNN’s journalistic excellence.”

“We have had shows about sports, fashion and technology, and some of that is going to be revisited,” Kent said. “It is all news that people need and are interested about. There is a lot of subject matter that we probably don’t give enough attention to.”

CNN is beginning to expand to other forms of non-fiction programming on the weekends with new shows next year hosted by Anthony Bourdain and Morgan Spurlock.

Does Zucker create some hits that keep CNN alive? Maybe, but the core business — NEWS — must suffer under this business model. News is, in fact, politics and war. Fox News isn’t demolishing CNN and MSNBC with their sports and fashion coverage. And under Zucker, CNN’s news coverage will be slower, have fewer resources, and 24-hour coverage will shrink to something significantly less.

Again — Jeff Zucker has apparently been hired not to resuscitate a cable news channel, but because the board has apparently given up on competing in cable news.

They think this hybrid brand is brilliant. It is the polar opposite of brilliant.

Again: cable news is not hard. Further, even with the diluted media market, the 24/7 news channel sector still only has three competitors. Presently, one of them dominates with a near monopoly. Interestingly, that monopoly is maintained not by having snapped up all available resources and undercutting competition, but by … well, by nothing at all. Fox News has absolutely nothing giving them an advantage or barring competitors from poaching viewers. No more fertile soil, no fracking potential located solely under their headquarters. Nothing. Fox News is #1 solely because MSNBC and CNN are run by the A and B dopes described above.

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