Monday, September 27, 2010

How CNN's New Boss Neglects the News

This morning's New York Times Web site includes an interview with Ken Jautz filed by the Hollywood Reporter, courtesy of the Reuters wire, and released under the headline "How CNN's New Boss Plans to Revive Ratings."  As I wrote on Friday, Jautz is the new head of the United States division of CNN (now part of CNN Worldwide in the organization chart food chain).  I took some satisfaction in Jautz taking full credit in that interview for the accusation I laid on him this past Friday, that his major achievement at Headline News was "wiping out all trace of the you-give-us-twenty-minutes-we'll-give-you-the-world motto."  At least now I know the motivation behind the massacre, so to speak:
We purposefully made HLN much more pop culture-oriented than CNN and tried to establish its identity as something different.
At the very least we can take this as evidence that Jautz knows more about pop culture than he does about news.  However, this raises the question of whether or not Jautz knows anything about news.  Consider his response to the question about whether he plans to "make things livelier" by adding "opinionated pundits" to his broadcasters:
By the time you get to primetime, in today's media environment, there are so many websites and outlets, people know basic facts. In addition to facts, they want analysis, they want context, they want perspective and they want some opinion. And yes, I think we should provide them with as many points of view as possible, but we should provide them from all different ends of the political spectrum and from newsmakers as well as pundits. As long as we continue to be smart and insightful and informed in our reporting and analysis, that will differentiate us.
We can begin with the problem that the opening premise for this response just "ain't necessarily so" (in the words of the great poet Ira Gershwin).  It would be more accurate to say that "today's media environment" is so riddled with the impact of the consciousness industry that "people" have little idea what they "know," because just about any account of 5W1H (who, what, when, where, why, how) "basic facts" is so wrapped in the rhetoric of strident opinion that it is hard to tell one from the other.  Strident opinion attracts viewers.  More viewers mean more ratings;  and improving ratings is CNN's biggest problem, the very first point Jautz made in his interview.  His assumption that people get their "basic facts" elsewhere is, at best, naive;  and I wish someone would hold his feet to the fire and demand that he warrant his premise!

Actually, on the basis of recent events, I have one possible warrant, which is the Comedy Channel.  This source may make the clearest distinction between fact and opinion:  If people do not laugh, it's a fact;  when Jon Stewart develops an analysis that culminates in a funny joke, that's an opinion!  It's an easy rule to follow;  and it may explain why so many people are willing to trust The Daily Show when it comes to "basic facts."

From this point of view, there is a good chance that the American public knows more about news than Jautz does;  but that just raises the question of whether or not CNN Worldwide cares that he knows so little about news.

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