The Tom Dougherty Blog


Posts tagged “CNN”

Larry King is leaving. CNN is dying.

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I was interviewed by the New York Times a few weeks back regarding CNN’s plunging ratings.  The article (you can read it here) was mostly about Larry King and his show’s decline in the ratings. My perspective was that Larry King’s show was a symptom of the CNN problem and not the cause.

Well, if CNN sticks to form, I would expect that they follow the traditional TV entertainment route when choosing King’s successor.  Too bad. They need to hire Stealing Share to fix the serious brand problems and find their raison d’etre.

CNN has lost its way. The network has no idea who it is or who we are when we watch. Unless they spend the energy and resources to uncover their core brand problems and then redefine their core brand promise and position, they will continue to compete with other entertainment choices of their ilk… Real Housewives of (insert geography here) and the latest reiteration of Jon & Kate Plus 8.

We will learn a lot about CNN’s desire to succeed or go blindly into the night by their Larry King replacement choice — … Larry suggested Ryan Seacrest.  As I was saying…

CNN has no brand. It has personality, and that is the problem.

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What is wrong with CNN and why are its ratings dropping faster than a meteor? Well, it is not the fault of Larry King or Anderson Cooper. They are a result of the problem.

CNN is a brand without a promise. It claims to be a news channel, but delivers the same playful entertainment content as TLC and the History Channel. At CNN, news is secondary to the personalities that host it.

This is the reverse of the heady days of CBS news when the program came first, even before icons like Walter Cronkite. It was the CBS News with Walter Cronkite. We knew very little about Walter. Knew nothing of his politics or personal life until well after his retirement. He hosted the show, announced the news, and reported on it. He did not fill the broadcast with alternating talking heads where, in the service of “fairness,” he had to alternate between interviews with Martin Luther King Jr. and the Grand Wizard of the clan. No, he was able to make the distinction of what is responsible and fair, and only reported the words of the former. That was news.

Today, we watch the CNN personality Anderson Cooper (AC 360), Wolf Blitzer in the “Situation Room” and Larry King Live. The star is not the news. The star is the personality of the celebrity. Haiti is not the big story for CNN. For it, the big story was how worn out, tired, concerned, deep feeling, and dedicated Anderson Cooper is.

CNN does not compete with FOX News. No one chooses between the two. We choose between Pawn Stars, Dancing With the Stars, Glen Beck, and AC 360. If we want news, we tune in Headline News.

Maybe we don’t want news any more. One thing is for sure, we don’t want the personality tainted entertainment cloaked as news from CNN anymore.

Newspapers got here late – even the NY Times

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One of our strategists at Stealing Share is a former journalist who has always amazed me with stories of how, for years, newspapers (including those he worked at) were late developing content-driven web sites, letting the and’s of the world take the first lead. Those early websites initially just had contact information with one of his editors boasting, “The Internet will never last,” an attitude that helped get news organization into the fix they’re in now.

Those news sites are different now, of course. Just about every newspaper in the world has a content-driven website and, among the largest newspapers in this country, they are some of the most sophisticated, complete with video, links and Twitter accounts.

But as we documented in a recent consumer study, Americans have found mainstream media to be more entertainment than news and that’s part of the reason why newspapers are going to find it difficult increasing revenue by moving to a increasing online focus.

new_york_times_logoThe New York Times, for instance, recently emailed a survey to subscribers asking if they would pay $2.50 a month to access its website ($5 for non-subscribers). You don’t have to be the Amazing Kreskin to know what those answers are going to be: A resounding “No!”

Our nationwide study showed that only 11.2% of all Americans would be willing to pay a subscription fee for online content. And why would they? They already get it for free, especially when the headlines of the New York Times are similar those at other outlets, especially the sites of the cable news networks.

Even if you are a subscriber to the New York Times, would your life be affected if you couldn’t access its website? (You’ll just go to CNN.) The cat, in a essence, has already been let out of the bag. Users have become accustomed to reading online news content for free. (Only the Wall Street Journal started right off the bat charging a fee.)

But there’s more to it than that. The New York Times has seen ad sales on its site drop 8%, and that’s not surprising considering the economy and that advertisers have gotten savvier about spending their online advertising dollars. (Pop-up ads? Nobody clicks on them.) While online subscriptions are intended to make up the losses, they will instead lower viewership, meaning advertisers will be less likely to advertise than they are now.

The New York Times, while one of the most respected news organizations in the world, is still lumped in with the changing view of mainstream media that focuses on pop culture rather than on more important affairs. (We just initiated a military surge in Afghanistan. But you couldn’t read about it through the haze of Michael Jackson and Steve McNair stories.)

NYT is also a national (even global) news organization, which means it’s content is not terribly unique. Granted, it does take news more seriously than most of its competitors, but journalism has changed and the audiences has changed along with it.

I often lament the way news has become entertainment (and two out of every three Americans agree that’s what has taken place). But the sad truth is that news organizations simply responded to what people wanted (or, at least, in a chase for ratings and advertising dollars, what they thought audiences wanted) – which means a fee-based online model for the Times is too late.

Where will we be when newspapers go away?

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So if you think your life would be unaffected if your local newspaper closed its doors, your might be in for a real shock. But, I have to tell you, that idea worries me like hell.  It worries me because at its root, the internet, is an entertainment vehicle and not a news source.  Just like TV and radio, the internet “media” is mostly a means to stay in touch (with more in common with the telephone than it has with the NY Times), and has become simply a diversion that we use to be entertained.  


After all, isn’t entertainment and diversion what all the social networks are really about?  We pretend they are about “staying connected”, but I for one am just plain tired of seeing “so and so liked that” on Facebook and endless one line blogs about how “you’re stuck in traffic in a cab.”  I guess that passes for being important now a days.

Keep this in mind when you stop reading your newspaper and are willing to swap real reporting for internet blogging and diversion.  Entertainment media generates revenue through the marketing of what is popular.  As a result, it is popularity that controls what is offered.  


Think for a moment about the proliferation of “reality shows” on TV. Why do you think TLC ( which ironically stands for The Learning Channel) has abandoned its brand promise of learning and education in exchange for Jon & Kate Plus 8, 18 Kids and Counting, What Not to Wear, Little People, Big World, and Toddlers & Tiaras.

So, if you are looking for the internet to provide you with news, you might be intereted in what Yahoo just listed as the most popular stories.  Stop reading your newspaper and this list is a harbinger of your future — for all you news hounds out there.

  1. The secret life of penguins revealed
  2. Surprise! Daydreaming Really Works the Brain
  3. Rare blue diamond sells for record $9.5 million
  4. Texas museum acquires Michelangelo’s 1st painting
  5. Rotten office fridge cleanup sends 7 to hospital
  6. Dick Cheney: Why So Chatty All of a Sudden?
  7. Parasitic flies turn fire ants into zombies
  8. Craigslist to drop “erotic services” ads
  9. White House advises senators on health care bill
  10. Depeche Mode lead singer in hospital in Athens

Now that is REAL news.  Looks like the the new “News Media” is keeping a close eye on everything.

What's news anymore?

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We have been predicting that the current economic downturn will cost one of the networks its existence. Could FOX – and, especially, its news division – be the one?

Well, if one of the warning signs of decline is a lack of vital importance, FOX News has shown its true colors in not covering the Presidential Press conference.  Was it not news?  Was it not important? Did the customers it serves not care?


If a network’s viewers do not care, that network has brain dead viewers. If they think it was not important, they are not living in my world.

If, however, they wanted to reduce the echo chamber spin that plagues the 24 hour “news” networks, the solution would have been easy: Broadcast the news conference and skip the pundits and analysis. That’s what I did. The moment the President was done, I turned off Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper and preferred to believe I had seen the conference for myself.

But at least I got to see it. FOX has lived up to its nickname once again…Faux News.

Swine flu is not what the media makes it out to be

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We often tell our clients that human beings seek meaning and, if you do not give it to them, they will make it up. That idea has never been so real to me as it has been today while the “news” continues to rattle around stories of the swine flu.

Now, I’m not saying that it might not mutate into a global catastrophe (though I’m betting it won’t), but I am saying that there is no new news about it.


That does not change the fact that CNN’s Headline recycles swine flu stories every 10 minutes. In between the “big story,” there are additional stories about how the flu has affected tweets and bloggers.

Enough already. If I have to eavesdrop on one more conversation filled with exaggeration, feigned concern and imaginary factoids, I think I will develop true stomach distress. The mainstream media may say they are just reporting the news, but the over-saturation of it means we are the ones who put the perspective (meaning) into it.

All this goes to show is how much news is hungered for today. Too bad we never hear news and instead are subjected to the echo chambers that pass for the “news.” No wonder the news media is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

The news best fit to print, I mean, broadcast.

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So all the newspapers are worried about the loss of readership and resulting advertising revenue.

Check out how this is affecting Detroit.

But here is the real story. Rumor has it that we don’t need newspapers anymore because we all get our news online or from 24-hour news networks like CNN.

Right. When was the last time you saw anything resembling news from CNN, Fox or MSNBC? Maybe I’m a curmudgeon, but they’ve got nothing on what CBS News used to be in the Cronkite days.

As someone who believes brands should strive to represent their reality, CNN should changes its name to CGN — Cable Gossip Network. Fox should change its name to FAUX and MSNBC just needs to reverse a few letters to BSNBC