Before Knocking CNN, Check Yourself for Fractures
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Poor CNN. The network is trying to be everything to everyone and, as is usually the case with such efforts, is pleasing no one. Ratings are in the toilet and in every corner -- from the plush offices of Vanity Fair, to the hallowed halls of NYU, to the ash-covered continent -- one hears the jarring thumps of unsolicited advice.
It's enough to make an executive producer drink more heavily than he already does.
New York Magazine writer Michael Hirschorn recently wrote the whole enterprise off (take that, Ted), commenting that CNN has had a relatively long run: two generations "to go from vanguard to rearguard." Compare that, Hirschorn says, to the fact that newer entrants like Yahoo! and AOL probably will survive only one generation, despire their high-profile CEOs.
Quick, bring up the Dylan soundtrack going to commercial, because The Times, They Are a-Changin.'
CNN is simply today's most colorful pinata, whacked repeatedly by the many challenges swirling around media, news, content creation and content consumption in this wildly disintermediated, information rich, chaotic environment. The issues CNN grapples with affect media and brands alike. I'll leave the CNN programming suggestions to the likes of Cohen, Jarvis and Rosen, but in this environment, a communications strategy that addresses the following issues is critical for everyone:
- Presenting facts and building relationships
Critics complain CNN puts too much emphasis on goofy anchor personalities. What's the right balance of power between the content creators and the content distributors/deliverers that establishes trust and creates connection with the consumer? When do you show, not tell? When do you need context, not just factoids?
- Preserving resonance in a realtime, 24/7 market
Critics condemn CNN's pop culture coverage and sensationalized headlines. In an age of information glut, what content filters do you use to maintain focus on what's important, and how do you balance this focus with softer audience interests? What filter do you provide for your audience?
- Balancing online and offline strategies
Critics lament the time CNN spends promoting twitter feeds and online platforms. How do you manage your online and offine strategies and content in tandem to create seamless brand content ecosystems?
- Building brand meaning while maintaining mass relevance
Critics say CNN spends too much time pandering to a dumbed-down mass audience. How do you manage in a niche environment if you are mass? How do you navigate and program audience segments? How do you display critical thought leadership and innovation without alienating the masses?
- Advancing a point of view
Critics claim CNN depends too much on Voice of God old broadcast technique, equating it with "objectivity." How do you manage a point of view without injecting bias? Is no point of view an option in the age of voice? How do you use technology to ensure transparency and empower fact checking?
Bash CNN all you like - and they are eminently bashable for their current state of affairs - but once you're finished mocking or reprogramming them, it's time to take a look at yourself.