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America could use a news network, especially in times like these. Most basic cable packages offer CNN, MSNBC, and Fox, but these aren’t news channels. Not really. They are politics channels. Politics has always been part of the coverage, of course, but it was treated as just one part of a much broader whole.
Flip back the calendar a few decades. The nightly news would feature a flood in Bangladesh, the latest on a budget deal from DC, a grisly crime in the Heartland, cross-border conflict in Israel, and a heartwarming closer on a centenarian skydiver. Switch to the only cable news channel and CNN would add an interview with a world leader, NBA playoff predictions, the marriage/divorce of a Hollywood power couple, and an exposé of a corrupt congressman.
Turn on CNN today: Trump screwed up the Coronavirus response, then a Coronavirus death toll, 14 talking heads yelling about Republicans, why Trump’s use of “Chinese virus” is racist, and a heartwarming closer on a centenarian who hates Trump.
The Donald often provides ratings, as every network proved by carrying live feeds of every rally in 2016. But it no longer works for CNN, even in a newsy time like the first quarter of 2020. Fox was the most-watched cable channel averaging 3.4 million viewers, while MSNBC was number two with 1.9 million. In third place was ESPN, despite sports being shut down a month ago. Finally, CNN limped in with 1.4 million.
The numbers get worse when tracking individual programs.
Fox News had the top five shows and 13 of the top 15. MSNBC’s “Maddow” was number six. The top-rated CNN show was “The Lead with Jake Tapper.” It came in 22nd place.
If CNN wants to survive our fractured media landscape, they need to take desperate action: abandon their failed politics-only format and return to news and information. Understandably, the news right now is all COVID-19, all the time, but allow me to play program director with a broadcast line-up for tomorrow.
- Map on Coronavirus spread over time
- Tips on how to avoid the virus
- Interview with Anthony Fauci
- Update on how Italy is dealing with the pandemic
- How to make the most of your time at home
- Feature on an ER doctor in Pennsylvania
- Trump’s daily presser on the latest moves
- Gov. Cuomo’s daily presser
- Expert predictions on next steps
- How people are thanking healthcare workers
And so on. Repeat the pressers two to three times a day. Fold in other governors’ statements around the country and leaders’ statements around the world. Talk to experts and everyday people (truckers, cashiers, etc.) working through the pandemic and those now unemployed.
You know, actual news and information. Families who keep the TV on all day would just leave it on CNN. Those taking a break from the home office would dip in every few hours for the latest. Over time, the network could replace high-priced pontificators with calm newsreaders. The public would be better informed and perhaps further mitigate the pandemic.
The country is deeply divided and wracked with anxiety. There is a market for straight reporting without the shouting. If CNN doesn’t want to change their format for the good of the public, they should do it for the profits. Because, at this point, their ratings can’t get much worse.Published in