7 Things That Are Killing CNN

As CNN's primetime ratings plummet, commentators speculate on who or what deserves the most blame

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"The most trusted name in news" is now the least watched. Among cable news networks, CNN lags behind competitors Fox, MSNBC and even its own offshoot HLN (Headline News) when it comes to evening programming. Although statements from the network have attempted to spin the numbers positively, many in the press agree with the New York Times' Bill Carter that the "results demonstrate once more the apparent preference…for opinion-oriented shows from the news networks in prime time." Bloggers, meanwhile, offered their own opinions on what is bringing CNN down.

  • Lack of Focus Some writers believe that CNN has failed precisely because it has tried to incorporate both news and opinion programming. Time TV critic James Poniewozik offers this advice: "I suggest that CNN either ignore the ratings and stick to its knitting, or that it change—going a more high-minded, newsy route or a more blatantly opinionated one." TalkLeft blogger Jeralyn agrees: "CNN would do better to focus on news and get out of the pundit business, rather than pretending it isn't as invested in commentary as the other networks. It would be great to have a reliable news network that really did focus on presenting the facts and expert opinion about them."  TrueSlant's Ryan Sager is confused at how CNN would even attempt to "go partisan" as its competitors already balance the ideological scale: "I like bland, centrist pabulum, goddammit. It’s called 'news,'" he intones.
  • Partisan Rivals  Noting that other channels devote the 8 p.m. hour to their most politically consistent figureheads, (Bill O'Reilly on Fox and Keith Olbermann on MSNBC), U.S. News and World Report's Robert Schlesinger takes it as a forgone conclusion that CNN will begin to model itself off its competitors and adopt a more partisan tone: "The question is: When CNN decides to get partisan will they try to out-fox Fox or bigfoot MSNBC on the left? Stay tuned."
  • Market Segmentation At the Monkey Cage blog, Henry concludes that the proliferation of special-interest cable shows are to blame for CNN's ratings-woes. He notes that the division is between those who follow politics and those who prefer channels that offer better coverage of the subjects they are interested in: "Those who are not very interested in politics have a much greater tendency to be moderate. Those who are intensely interested in politics tend to be highly partisan. Now that the politically apathetic are dropping out of consuming political news, those who remain tend to be highly partisan - and much more interested in consuming Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow (not that I want to equate these two except in more than a generic way) than in consuming bland, centrist pabulum."
  • The Internet Similarly, On The Beltway's James Joyner credits the rise of the Internet with offering audiences untold new viewing opportunities, especially when it comes to real-time coverage. He writes: "People who are interested in news — whether about public affairs, sports, or the weather — can get it when they want it, how they want it.  There’s no longer much point in waiting for the 6:30 or 11:00 news.   Even shows like 'SportsCenter,' which were a godsend 20 years ago, are now boring blather since it’s an hour talking about things viewers knew about hours earlier." At the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, writer Kristi E. Swartz seconds this evaluation: "Some of the viewers may have simply gone digital. CNN.com, which has always boasted No. 1 in the ratings, got a makeover Monday, one that executives said made it 'uncluttered' and 'easier to navigate.'"
  • Leftist Denial  At the blog Joust the Facts, blogger Giacomo makes the common conservative case that CNN unsuccessfully masquerades as centrist when it is in fact, a reliably liberal network. "The alphabet soup of left-leaning media, of which CNN is a member, consider themselves centrist, and want to be seen that way, even as they use name-calling and derision to refer to legitimate conservatives, as if no conservative politics can even be considered legitimate…Maybe now is not the time to let Joy Behar vent her leftist spleen."
  • The Anchors Several bloggers blame CNN's hosts for the network's poor performance. Firedoglake's Attaturk says that they are simply not interesting enough: "It’s as if CNN hired a cast of Jay Lenos," he quips. "Wolf Blitzer has two traits, incredible blandness and rank stupidity; Larry King is a horrid mix of Charlie Rose and Methuselah." Going further, other bloggers advise CNN to go the gratuitous route and play up the appearance of female anchors.
  • The Reporting  Cautioning against reading too much into numbers that only reflect a minority of total TV viewers, Truthdig's Peter Z. Scheer says that CNN fails because it can't even fulfill its stated purpose: reporting the news. "The conventional wisdom is that Americans prefer their news with a heavy dose of opinion, but CNN could be losing viewers because, as the 'Daily Show' points out, the network is just bad at gathering news." Liberal Values blogger Ron Chusid agrees: "There may or may not be a potential audience in this country for a real news network. If there is, CNN does not satisfy that demand."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.