By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Maybe CNN’s ratings aren’t the real issue

Following a report earlier this week that CNN’s prime-time ratings were continuing to crater, there’s been quite a bit of talk about how to get the original cable news net back in the game against the Fox News Channel and MSNBC. My “Beat the Press” colleague Kara Miller has some thoughts, and, as previously noted, Michael Calderone of Politico interviewed a bunch of media observers, including me.

But here’s a counterintuitive idea. Maybe we’re all making a category error. As former CNN host (and Media Nation favorite) Aaron Brown tells Calderone, CNN remains a “highly profitable business.” CNN posits itself as a news alternative to the partisan, opinion-driven talk-show line-ups offered by Fox and MSNBC. In that sense, maybe the three cable news nets aren’t really competitors at all.

The problem, of course, is that CNN’s prime-time line-up also consists mainly of talk shows, though not very good ones. The other night I briefly tuned in the best of the bunch, “Anderson Cooper 360,” and saw Dr. Phil talking about the Phoebe Prince tragedy. I nearly injured myself in my haste to change the channel. (By the way: I like Cooper, but think he’s being misused.)

What I’d like to see is a smart, analytical approach that makes sense out of all the news tidbits we accumulate throughout the day, unafraid to call out lies and misrepresentations but nonpartisan in its overall approach. Something, frankly, like Brown’s old program, “NewsNight,” canceled to make way for “AC360.”

And, yes, it’s time for Larry King to get his gold watch. No Larry-bashing from me: the man has a lot to do with the success CNN has enjoyed over the years. But all things must eventually come to an end.

Given that CNN continues to make money, maybe everyone would get off the network’s back about its poor ratings if it were offering not just an alternative to Fox and MSNBC, but one that is compelling and smart.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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  1. L.K. Collins

    Like many things, it’s all a matter of perspective.

    The same analysis applies to The New York Times and every other journalistic enterprise.

    Businesses have the objective of being profitable. In this, journalism is the chosen vehicle for achieving it.

  2. BP Myers

    Yeah, it’s fun to make fun of him and all, but I think Larry King remains the best interviewer on television. Not his fault that the latest tabloid dog and pony show all make their way to his studio first.

    But anyone who says, “I remember talking with Philip Wylie about that . . .” is forever okay in my book.

  3. Part of the problem with CNN is that it positions itself as an alternative to the partisanship of the competition, yet keeps bending over backward to accommodate the very loud & cranky extreme right wing. Recently they hired Erick Erickson of Redstate, calling him “a perfect fit” for CNN. He’s called the first lady “a Marxist harpy” and famously referred to Supreme Court Justice David Souter as “a goat f***ing child molestor”. They “balance” this sort of uncivil childishness with tired hacks from the first Clinton campaign, which was never that liberal back in 1992.

    Meanwhile the “left wing” network, MSNBC gives over three hours every morning to a former GOP congressman with squishy, non professional pol Mika to provide his “balance”.

    And over on Fox? They offer a full range of views: religious conservative, economic conservative, mouth breathing tea party conservative, Goldwater conservative, etc…

    Even when they are in the decline, the right manages to move the middle to where they say define it, and even the White House seems to buy this occasionally, like on the oil drilling lately

  4. L.K. Collins

    Moving the middle?

    Isn’t that what politics is all about?

  5. John F.J. Sullivan

    You may get your wish., especially if King’s own ratings continue downward.

    That would be unfortunate since King is unique on television in actually giving his (yes, often inane and bothersome) guest time to actually respond to the kind of question the average viewer would ask. And he’s always polite (as are, I must say, Maddow, Cooper and, about 60 percent of the time, Olbermann).

  6. L.K. Collins says:
    April 1, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    >Moving the middle?

    >Isn’t that what politics is all about?

    Yes, but…with the right wing, it’s a shell game that the punditocracy buys into. The right wing noise machine manages to convince the punditry that the middle is “over here!!!, where we are!!!”, far more than public opinion indicates.

    The right is much better with optics, slogans & packaging than the left, but public opinion has been left of the conventional wisdom on many recent occasions: the failed Clinton Impeachment, the political survival & election of Obama, pot decrim here in MA, etc.

  7. BP Myers

    @John Doherty said: public opinion has been left of the conventional wisdom on many recent occasions: the failed Clinton Impeachment, the political survival & election of Obama, pot decrim here in MA, etc.

    And more recently, the overwhelming desire for a health care public option. Toward the end, it seemed almost as if the politicians didn’t believe the polls.

    Still, can’t imagine it’s more than a year or two away, perhaps just in time for the “mandate” to kick in.

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