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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

They CNN'ed It

Recent popular media is full of new nouns describing someone screwing up.  The Simpsons finished off an episode once with a dictionary entry for "Pull a Homer: to succeed despite idiocy."  On TV's Community, characters regularly refer to the character of Britta, the show's well-meaning idealogue who more often than not makes situations worse -- when something goes wrong, they say it "was Britta'd."  When it comes to news, I'd like to add another: to "CNN it."

I worked at CNN, in the Headline News section, radio division, back when the network was young in the mid-80s.  Even then, CNN had to deal with filling a non-stop programming hole; the problem with 24-hour news is that news isn't  always BREAKING. There are lulls, holding patterns, periods when an investigation is underway and the story really doesn't change. In the old days, CNN would fill with Larry King or Crossfire or other pre-produced shows that would eat up the night and weekend hours when not much happened.  Of course, the flip side of that is that when you commit to Larry King for an hour every night, and the commercial time is sold, POOF!  There goes the flexibility you have to cover a breaking story at 9:24.  And, as Jon Stewart reminded us, Crossfire just added volume to the conservative-liberal shouting match without adding value. 

So now CNN's moved closer to true 24-hour news, no fillers.  Except, of course, for the anchors and reporters who feel they must fill every second.  We now have to choose between the lesser of two evils:  the anchor continually chirping that "we don't know exactly what's happening right now, but there you see the smoke on your screen;"  and the reporter making whatever claim is in the air at the moment, as we saw in Boston, where John King was seen frantically working his iPhone quoting his sources about suspects being arrested, sources who were profoundly wrong.

The 24-hour cycle also seems to play right into that "you saw it here first" thing that competitive news organizations always have.  It's almost like they're saying, "We're always on, always throwing stuff out there, so keep viewing and you're bound to see us stumble into something good!" 

Well, here's a news tip for you: I don't remember who got it first.  I remember who got it right.

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