« "I Find It Hard to Take Them Seriously" | Main | links for 2007-07-27 »

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Traditional News vs. Opinion-Mongering

Traditional news is fading away?:

Make news, not views, by Dan Kennedy, Comment is Free: Don't cry for Paula Zahn. Her show on CNN's US network wasn't all that great, hardly anyone watched... But before her August 2 departure from the House That Ted Turner Built, it's worth pondering what she told Jacques Steinberg of the New York Times:

"We worked so hard to maintain a high quality of objective reporting on the air," she said. "Yet what has become clear when you look at the landscape, particularly in the eight o'clock hour, it seems pretty obvious the audience is drawn to opinion-driven shows. That is not what I do."

Zahn is right. There's less and less news on the three cable news channels - CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC - and that's especially true in the evening, when people might actually be watching.

Zahn had it particularly tough. In her 8-to-9pm time slot, she was up against ... Bill O'Reilly, Fox's loofah-wielding ratings king. MSNBC counters with cable's sole liberal host, Keith Olbermann. The entirely predictable result: Zahn's program is a distant third. ...

Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, which now dominates the market, offers one conservative talk show after another, with the sole exception of Shepard Smith's 7pm newscast. Even Special Report with Brit Hume (how can it be special if it's on every night?), hosted by an actual journalist, tilts noticeably to the right, while primetime hosts O'Reilly and Sean Hannity deal strictly in cartoonish stereotypes. ... Greta Van Susteren offers an hour's worth of tabloid trash before the O'Reilly rerun.

MSNBC's signature personalities are Olbermann and political shouter Chris Matthews...

CNN - the original cable news outlet, ... has done a little better. But its best-known host these days may be Lou Dobbs, whose attacks on illegal immigrants have made him an unlikely star... Larry King's talk show is non-ideological, but it's also non-news. At least the network continues to put on something resembling an actual newscast: Anderson Cooper 360....

CNN's once-sober sibling, Headline News, has gone on a bender with loathsome programs hosted by sob sister Nancy Grace and reactionary doofus Glenn Beck.

It wasn't always this way. Just a few years ago, CNN and MSNBC competed head-to-head with hour-long newscasts at 10pm... Since then, the success of Fox has clearly affected the competition. Opinion is cheaper than news, and apparently more popular, too. ...

The problem with all this opinion-mongering is that it contributes to cynicism about the news and the alleged biases of the folks who report it. ... Thus we have arrived at a point where even the horrors of, say, Abu Ghraib can be dismissed as little more than partisan sniping. ... If the cable news channels can't survive by bringing us, you know, news, then that's a pretty sad commentary.

When I still watched, I was never much impressed with Paula Zahn, partly because the way the show was structured, its "he said-she said" format allowed the impression to emerge that important issues are nothing more than partisan sniping. I stopped watching during the run-up to the last presidential election when there was far too much back and forth argument presented as journalism at a time when people needed much more than that from those responsible for making sense of the world. I remember sending an email to Zahn (which I doubt anyone read) asking why, after one guest had uttered what were demonstrable lies, the guest was invited back for another of CNN's "news" reports to offer more of the "other side," where the other side was nonsense. It didn't seem like there was anything an entertaining guest could say that would prohibit them from being asked to return. There also seemed to be a coziness or mutual reliance between Zahn and many of her guests, guests who were mostly the same mouthpieces recycled again and again on every issue, and the mutual dependence was more than you would hope for from an objective news source. It did not appear she was willing to take any chances, to risk ruffling any feathers by challenging even the obvious distortions, because that would risk access to the guests, those connected with the administration in particular, and potentially bring the scorn of the noise machine standing ever ready to protect its own.

I don't know the answer, it appears that the profit maximizing strategy, i.e. the business strategy that maximizes entertainment value, is not consistent with producing news and information that optimally serves the public interest. But I do know we are not well served by what we have.

    Posted by on Thursday, July 26, 2007 at 04:23 PM in Economics, Press | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (27)


    TrackBack URL for this entry:

    Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Traditional News vs. Opinion-Mongering:


    Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.