This is CNN?

All right. So some others have weighed in on what would save CNN. Here are my two cents.

I think CNN producers are misled by which stories get the most hits on the website. Murders and sex scandals get the most hits, I think they think, so let's play those up! But if I happen to be on the website, and there is a link to some sort of murder or sex scandal, I will often follow the link and read the story. And apparently others do, too. That said, I tend not to even go to CNN's home page precisely because it's littered with child sex abuse stories. So even though I do click on those links when I happen to be at CNN, the presence of those links makes me less likely to visit the site in the first place. Although my interest may be piqued when actually presented with the information, I do not seek this kind of story when my real goal is to see what's happening in the world.

I suspect the information on the most-clicked stories has also bled into their news operations.

I disagree with two proposed solutions to this problem. One is Ross Douthat's idea of a channel devoted to left/right debate. God forbid! That is exactly the problem with the current version of CNN: the idea that if you have a couple of yahoos yelling at each other from a basis of ill-thought-out ideological presuppositions, the truth or enlightenment somehow emerges. It does not, it turns out.

The other problematic solution is the idea of medium specificity. Conor Friedersdorf suggests that what CNN needs are compelling images, because this is TV, and TV is a visual medium. This is an old idea in aesthetics - that a work of art is good insofar as it exploits the resources that are available uniquely to that medium. This has never been a compelling aesthetic argument to me. I find films that emphasize visual images no better or worse, all else equal, than films that are talky narrative ones. And I enjoy theater productions that show scenes that film could do "better" (like, say, have a ship on an actual sea instead of a rocking stage set). And I definitely don't see why a magazine-type show would be the better for it. NPR has some great stuff, but some of their let's-use-the-medium-of-sound-in-a-novel-way stories are tiresome. Also, TV is crucially also a social and verbal medium, not just a visual one.

What NPR also has, that CNN would do well to imitate, is experts talking about stuff at some length. CNN could cultivate a more educated niche viewer who is willing to let news stories go for a bit longer. As others have noted, this has worked for NPR. And rather than having go-to political commentators, why not get actual experts in a given area who are not regularly employed by the station? I do think Friedersdorf idea of more magazine-oriented stories is a good one, but they don't necessarily have to be visually dazzling.

CNN could be a place that would be somewhat more literate, more leisurely, more informed. Not some sort of farcical left-right debate, but in actual analysis.


  1. From your lips (keyboard) to God's ears (monitor).

  2. I like the idea that I would communicate to God in blog form.

  3. I'm really confused about the information conveyed in the 2nd paragraph. Sex scandals and murder stories make you go to CNN less often, but when you visit, you are highly likely to click-through on sex scandals and murder stories.

    CNN online lives and breaths to get you to click-through links. Every click tells an advertiser how to spend money on CNN, and the most clicked categories are the most valuable for CNN to sell.

    You are CNN online's product. CNN online needs you to come click so they can get three hots and a cot. CNN online sells your clickstream[1], and the news items are the bait to lure you to the site. As you describe your behavior, CNN would be foolish to reduce the sex/murder link percentage. Why not start rewarding CNN for producing useful news and punishing them for putting out salacious stories or stories that appeal to humanity's baser instincts? Just Say No; don't click those links!

    [1] ugh, but that's marketing-droid-speak for your path through a site.

  4. GJ, what I mean is that I rarely visit CNN because I know it's murder/sex saturated. When I happen to be there for another reason, I will click those stories. Yet the presence of all the murder/rape stuff means I almost always go to other news sites.