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.