Can CNN survive?

Although there is turmoil at CNN (anchor Campbell Brown leaving, ratings dropping for CNN’s U.S. primetime shows, talks under way about a merger with CBS News), that turmoil may not be the whole story. A recent National Journal piece presents a far rosier picture, which is reassuring for anyone who wants to see quality, objective TV journalism survive. The article notes that CNN as a whole (not just the U.S. primetime operation) had its most profitable year ever last year. While primetime ratings are terrible, CNN earns only about 10% of its revenue from those shows, it says. The article quotes Jim Walton, President of CNN Worldwide, as adding: “…the remaining 90 percent comes from non-prime-time programming on the network, as well as HLN [Headline News],, CNN International, CNN en Español, CNN Airport Network, and all of the other CNN-branded news and information platforms that together deliver more news to more people than any other news organization in the world.” The article reports another healthy indicator: “Despite the prime-time slippage, CNN continues to attract more unique viewers than its competitors overall, according to Nielsen surveys. In April, its 90.2 million viewers topped the 82.3 million who watched Fox News and MSNBC’s 74.8 million. And HLN’s 79.5 million viewers add to CNN’s bottom line.”

As CNN approaches its 30th birthday this June, the outlook is decidedly mixed, but at least it is not all bad. CNN does well when there is big breaking news, and according to this article it still does well enough even on slow news days. If it were not part of a publicly held company whose stock is traded, it would not have to worry about pressure to show higher earnings every year, and could just make sure it covers its expenses, like a nonprofit such as PBS, whose NewsHour show is another example of quality TV journalism that makes a good effort at objectivity. But since it does have to contribute to profit growth, there is that pressure. The hope is that CNN execs will resist the temptation to goose the ratings with fluff, sensationalism, high-priced anchors, and opinionated news items. In a sense, the worst thing that happened to CNN was getting the huge ratings boosts it experienced in the first Gulf War and on 9/11, because they created pressure to try to keep the ratings up, which is not possible without sacrificing quality. As someone who joined CNN in its first year, I salute its successes and hope that it keeps to its promise of good journalism (despite occasional lapses — see my previous blog post).



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2 responses to “Can CNN survive?

  1. Anjelica Tan

    As an avid watcher of CNN, I too have wondered how the cable news channel will survive, or at least adapt to, the ever-changing media landscape. Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that the network has been incorporating the use of the Internet, through anchors on Facebook and Twitter and the addition of iReport, which allows citizens to contribute pictures and videos of breaking stories in cities and neighborhoods from around the world. I think an open platform is great–and inevitable, especially in our tech-savvy society–however, the real reporting should still be left to the journalists who strive for objectivity and the truth so that we as citizens can make well-informed decisions in a world that is constantly changing and overflowing with information. I trust that CNN will continue to do its duty and provide the public with credible and quality journalism.

  2. Lauracindy Plague

    To answer the question presented in the title of this blog post, yes, I do believe CNN will survive, however it may not be in its traditional form. Despite the recent disemination of many news organizations due to increased use of internet news, CNN still remains superior, in number over viewers over other cable news channels. I do not have cable and never have, but it is no longer necessary to get the quality news casts of CNN. Despite that fact that I have never had cable, and rarely watch CNN, as it is originally aired, I do turn to CNN as one of the most objective and trustworthy news organizations on the internet. The CNN resources available to veiwers on the website are generally of the same quality as the news presented on the broadcasts, however these resources are more easily accessible, especially in today’s society of instant gratification.

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