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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
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The other 758 cable channels do scripted, taped stuff, and little “politics and war.” And Zucker just came in saying he wants to throw in the towel on the hyper-exclusive market where CNN is already established, and move into a market spread paper-thin, trying to create the next Hoarders or something.

And scripted is really, really hard. It’s not that it takes a genius, it’s that no one really knows what makes a hit. Lots of misses for every hit. You need to be all-in. But CNN can’t be all in, because much of the day still will be live news and commentary.

To do what Zucker wants, CNN must half-ass the news and half-ass the entertainment.

Can it work? The strategy could keep the network afloat, but it cannot repair the news coverage, which will eventually fail. It has to.

So Zucker cannot do this. The type of person who could fix CNN would be bright enough not to pull out of the 24/7 cable news market. They’d still be doing cable news exclusively, they’d just be doing it right.

Which not only doesn’t take a genius, it hardly takes a coffee break-length meeting. Seriously, I’m going to fix CNN before this episode of House Hunters ends. Go:

First — free up resources by massively paring down both national and international bureaus. Technology has made the need for, say, an expensive Damascus bureau obsolete. A trustworthy friend with an iPhone and an email account – that’s a Damascus bureau. (Anecdote: PJ Media was publishing video after video of the initial carnage in Syria this year because we had contacts with cheap cameras who simply trusted us. A producer for one of the four broadcast networks wanted me to tell him where we were getting all the footage from, as their supposedly elite team of pricey J-school Middle East capital-“r” Reporters were desperately scouring Twitter for footage. Which would have then gone through several levels of editors and political decisions before getting aired, if at all.)

Second – go through CNN’s schedule and can whatever isn’t working or has no chance of winning eyeballs from Fox News in its current format. Yes, this means dumping the liberal bias. It only works in a world with no other news/entertainment options, and that world is gone. Liberal bias is dominant on television, but its fractured across several outlets. Only a Fox News structure – which just happens to consistently do a better job at getting the facts right about the news, conservative or not – can be a dominant structure right now. Stealing eyeballs from Fox News doesn’t mean changing a bias, it means being verifiably better and faster with the facts.

Just checked CNN’s weekly lineup, and any rational, competent, passionate-about-the-news observer would can the entire schedule and start over.

Third — hire the connections. The actual talent with track records of success, accuracy, and on-air ability. No bells and whistles or cool kids. Start with Bill Whittle.

And the PJTV NewsHour.

Mr. Zucker and your new boss and board, your experiment is doomed to fail, and I’m thoroughly stunned it didn’t occur to you at that first press conference, considering the recent historical examples.

Your new strategy does not redefine news, it defines … AOL. Best of luck.

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David Steinberg is the New York City Editor of PJ Media. Follow his tweets at @DavidSPJM.
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