Quantity is not Quality when it comes to pundits and news media

Apr 29, 2009 Published under Media and Alternative Media

The New York Times ran a story a couple days ago about how CNN is losing market share to MSNBC and to FOX, primarily on prime time, explaining that coverage tilted to extremes on the right (FOX) and left (MSNBC) has captured more ratings than moderate balanced coverage.

It is a real and serious challenge that moderation and balance tends to incite less excitement.  Partisan coverage can capture passions and appeal to core audiences.  I have written about this challenge before, studying how people are programmed for "affirmation" instead of "information – and how lack of critical unbiased thinking is a challenge for society; analyzing FOX coverage of Obama; and exploring how the internet could redress this. Indeed, that is part of why OneVoice’s work is necessary. 

But in CNN’s case, the problem seems to be a far simpler one: their prime-time programming and formatting suck! (sorry, I tried first to use "are terrible" instead of "suck", but it didn’t ring as true)

It is incredible that nobody in management at Time Warner has figured out how pathetic their coverage is.  They keep introducing more bells and whistles, with interactive screens and charts, and literally DOZENS of people in the newsroom, as if they will command authority and respect by just filling tables with more talking heads.

But there is the problem: other than some excellent commentary from seasoned experts like David Gergen, the vast majority of commentators have no idea what they are saying or doing, or even if a couple others are good, they just dilute one another in such ridiculous formats.

During election night coverage, you could argue that their Board of Directors table format was authoritative. "Hey, let’s watch CNN because they have more ‘experts’", you could imagine people thinking.

But the next day after elections, I tuned to CNN and, alas, it was like a hangover brunch.  All these unknown and uninteresting commentators were hanging around to express their opinions in communal commentary formats.  Oh, and CNN also felt compelled to share with us comments on every issue from average people, plus unscientific interactive meaningless "polls."  Is that really what people looking for "news" want?

Ok, I guess you could understand the 20 commentators the day after the election – or even the week after the election – because a historic election had just taken place.  But what is the logic of keeping this party format 4 months later? What is the "event" that warrants having the grandmother of the producer’s cousin’s brother sitting alongside all these other pundits to share their two cents on every issue?

All CNN needs is a compelling anchor that can probe into issues with sincerity of purpose.  In the meantime, there is NO news program I know of that provides balanced, interesting, deep, consistent coverage.


Incidentally, the New York Times suffers in analogous ways.  Their editorials are either patronizing or fixated on rehashing the obvious.  They lack innovation, personality, persuasiveness and pizzazz: a good editorial should have at least two of those elements.  I may disagree with the Wall Street Journal editorials more often, but they have more personality and are better constructed.  Is it that hard to write compelling and fresh arguments?

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  1. The Dangers of Partisan Editing and Spin | Daniel Lubetzky said:

    [...] of my favorite commentators and real statesmen – David Gergen (perhaps the only excellent one left among dozens of mini-opinionators) probably did not even listen to the speech in full, and certainly did not frame things [...]

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