Friday, June 19, 2009

CNNfail and expectations of news networks

This started as a reply to my dad about this article, but got long enough that I decided to make it a blog post.

Interesting read, but I would frame it differently. I gave up on CNN a long time ago.

I don't think I ever gave them a serious chance, and having watched the Daily Show for more than a few episodes, I feel entirely justified in this conclusion.

It seemed that they had concluded, as a business decision, that there was not viewership for news.

Or at least, that it was more cost-effective to report on Paris Hilton than to report news.

Sure, sending reporters around the world is expensive, but it really is not necessary. You gain something from boots on the ground, but what you really need is the determination to discuss the news.

The interesting thing to me is just how much you can actually report without boots on the ground at all. As I have said to Evie a number of times when discussing the future of news, "international news is just local news in a different place." One thing that we are clearly seeing is that it is very possible for the "new media" to have detailed, up-to-date, and accurate accounts of events happening on the other side of the world.

The "old media" system relies on a small number of people dedicating all of their time on all of the news, but the new media allows a large group of people each to focus on one event or category and thoroughly report on just that one topic. For example, the guy who put together the Tatsuma site probably does not also cover the tax breaks for green roofs in New York. If he were a TV channel, that would be a problem, since you couldn't rely on him for your sole source of news. In a new media setting, you only go to him for info about the Iran elections, and go to someone who devotes their whole day/month/life to green roofs in New York. Everything is important to someone, and if it isn't, it likely isn't newsworthy.

My counter example" my beloved CNBC. Now it is only business and financial news. However, they really do B and F news. In depth, in detail, intelligently. No Paris Hilton, no jokes, no pointless chatter among the hosts.

Given the trends among other TV "News" networks, this is surprising and encouraging.

It looks like it should be very cheap to produce. They have several people in the studio, and they report the news. Much of the time is devoted to interviewing people who know what they are talking about (senior executives at corporations and securities analysts), and giving them time to answer thoughtful questions. I have seen them spend 20 minutes discussing interest rate policies and its effects on financial companies with the head of a major insurer.

I'm not that into the details of B&F news, but I really wish that this type of news network existed for other areas as well, and I'm finding that more and more of this kind of thing is done on blogs and social media.

If CNN were to have someone like that on at all, they would ask some idiotically simplistic question, then cut them off after the first 15 seconds of the answer.

And then have the host blather on about some generic topic that only tangentially related to the topic and finish off with a half-hour of soundbites.

CNN could do this. But they have decided that Brittny Speers's haircut is more newsworthy.

I think the problem, and the most profound part of the article, is that there exists this implicit idea with people who complain about this kind of thing that there is some sort of "social contract" between the "news" networks and the people that the news companies will report on what is relevant and important. The reality is that these companies are businesses, and so will do whatever they can to maximize profits. I think that the problem arises when the networks advertise themselves as the former but deliver the latter. People don't get outraged when E! reports on Britteny Spears' haircut because they make no claim to be anything but a gossip column about celebrities.

The technological and social frameworks for a complete replacement of these old media businesses are not quite yet in place, but they are close, and when they are, the entertainment companies posing as news are going to be in trouble.

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