Programming wizard Jeff Zucker has been quickly taking steps to make CNN more competitive as it gets caught in an ideological pincer wedging it between right wing Fox News and left wing MSNSBC — with both of the other news operations going full dive into ideologically based newscasts. Zucker has made some impressive new hires and discreetly parted ways with some familiar CNN faces.
But its recent extensive coverage of the Carnival Cruise “Poop Ship” story has raised eyebrows and brought criticism of CNN doing too much= on that story. On the other hand, interest in the story has been high throughout throughout the media. It’s the old tug of war between giving the people what they want to learn more about in news or giving them what they should learn in the news.
One of the most devastating posts critical of CNN comes via Buzzfeed which went back and counted minutes CNN spent on the story and peppers it with a huge section of screen shots. MUST READING TO PONDER THE ISSUE OF COVERAGE SO GO HERE.
Editors of many publications and broadcast outlets grapple all day with the issues of what’s a story and the public thirsts for. In the case of CNN, it is enmeshed with that other issue of how to build an audience in an era where many viewers are going for ideological newscasts where they agree before they tune in with the predictable viewpoint of a cable station before they even put their little pinkie on their remote.
You can see Zucker’s CNN-ology. The ideological problem cannot be solved ideologically. Entertainment solves it non-ideologically. Perfect!
UPDATE: But, in the end, the gamble paid off in the ratings:
CNN’s decision to cover one story — of a stranded Carnival cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico — like no other channel could on Thursday appeared to pay off when the Nielsen ratings came in on Friday.
The channel, which usually loses to MSNBC and Fox News on a daily basis, easily beat MSNBC and came much closer to Fox than it usually does.
The ratings could be seen as a justification both for CNN’s coverage — which was engrossing but also easy to criticize — and for the channel’s investment in a helicopter rental, a boat rental and a legion of reporters on the ground in Mobile, Ala., where the cruise ship was eventually towed into port late Thursday.
At noon on Thursday, CNN started covering the ship to the exclusion of most other stories. For the whole day CNN had an average of 632,000 viewers watching at any given time, up about 50 percent versus typical Thursdays this year. MSNBC had 535,000, down slightly. Fox News remained on top with 1.38 million, up slightly.
The same was true in prime time, when the ship neared the port of Mobile. CNN had an average of 1.03 million viewers at any given time from 8 to 11 p.m., up 62 percent versus typical Thursdays this year. MSNBC had fewer — 867,000 — and Fox had more, 2.14 million. Those two channels mostly stuck with their regular lineups until the ship was within sight of the port of Mobile.
CNN, on the other hand, went wall-to-wall with cellphone interviews of ship passengers and aerial pictures of the ship’s slow-motion arrival. “Sweet Home Alabama,” the CNN graphics read at one point as passengers debarked. The channel stayed with live coverage until 1:30 a.m., three and a half hours after it usually switches to taped programming.