How to Save CNN

Maybe reviving Crossfire would do the trick

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UPDATE, 12:20 p.m.: Jay Rosen helpfully points us to Michael Hirschorn's New York Magazine piece on the CNN situation. Hirschorn steps back to question all the free advice being thrown at the network: "it's always easy to pontificate when you’re not weighed down by decades of process, staff, relationships, and cash flow." Although he agrees with the diagnosis of CNN as overly dry, he thinks the problems may run a bit too deep to be fixed by a quick makeover:

In an era when news flows like water--available everywhere, all the time, instantly--a network devoted to providing headlines topped with a touch of analysis no longer seems quite so useful. If anything, sitting down for 22 minutes to watch a middlebrow mix of politics and weather that's too proud to dabble more than passingly in the latest Hollywood crack-whoredom seems … inefficient.

Back in October, the Wire brought you commentators' thoughts on the seven things that were killing CNN. Now, with a massive drop in ratings, most media critics are focused on the second point those seven: CNN's partisan rivals. In the debate over how to revive the network, most agree CNN has to become sharper and more opinionated in order to compete with MSNBC and Fox. (As one blog puts it: "a spoonful of crazy makes the ratings go up.") But that doesn't necessarily mean that CNN should become MSNBC and Fox. So here's the question: how, exactly, do you make a "straight news" network edgier and more competitive, while still maintaining its identity?

  • A Buffet of Viewpoints  Jay Rosen was one of the first to the table at his NYU blog. He says CNN has to understand that "viewlessness may not be an advantage but ideology-in-command is not the only alternative." He'd like to see an evening lineup that includes, for example a right-wing show followed by a left-wing one, a a "fact check" hour, and perhaps some libertarian offerings.
  • Bring Back Crossfire  That's one of the ideas coming out of Michael Calderone's Politico piece on how to fix the network. He quotes a few Crossfire alums who support the motion--certainly, it's an idea being echoed elsewhere.
  • Bring Back Crossfire ... a la Jon Stewart  One of the folks taking up the Crossfire theme is New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat. He cautions, though, that CNN shouldn't bring back "the Crossfire of 2004." Jon Stewart, he says--the man who with an epic takedown helped end the show--"wasn't entirely wrong" in his criticism back then. 
What cable news needs, instead, is something more like what Stewart himself has been doing on "The Daily Show." Instead of bringing in the strategists, consultants and professional outrage artists who predominate on other networks, he ushers conservative commentators into his studio for conversations that are lengthy, respectful and often riveting. Stewart’s series of debates on torture and interrogation policy, in particular--featuring John Yoo and Marc Thiessen, among others--have been more substantive than anything on Fox or MSNBC.
  • Own Up to the Slant That's Already There  "The claim that CNN plays it "down-the-middle" is subject to serious dispute," responds Paul at Powerline to Calderone's Politico piece. It is, in fact, left-leaning, he says. HughS at Wizbang agrees: " if you have an ideological slant it's much better to say so upfront." Or, as Paul puts it: "viewers clearly have no use for slanted news presented blandly."
  • More Entertainment  Another idea to come out of Calderon's story at Politico is that news seems to be more successful as entertainment. That's a theory James Joyner at Outside the Beltway seconds when he criticizes Jay Rosen's sample CNN lineup: "Jay seems to be designing shows for intellectuals when the evidence seems to show that people are really after infotainment."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.