Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Where The News Comes First

My biggest problem with cable news channels isn't bias or Bill O'Reilly (who got canned just hours before this post). The problem is there's hardly any news in cable news. The worst offender, unfortunately, is the network that created the genre: CNN.

As I work through the day, CNN plays on a TV next to my desk. I want to see what they're covering. Mostly, though, the cable news network is the cable talking-heads network. A little bit of reporting bookends a lot of talking. Anchors and pundits -- sometimes four or five at a time -- box the screen like a talking yearbook, discussing the news so we don't have to do it ourselves. Meanwhile, also playing on my desk, is CNN's video wire service for its contributing stations. It's filled with stories from around the country and the world that the network distributes but doesn't show itself. I'm talking about the other news that goes on outside Washington, New York and Los Angeles. These are stories reported by reporters, not merely talked about by an anchor and four pundits.

Occasionally, CNN will run a quick "Top Stories" update with a few quick lines about some other news over video before getting back to the boxes. That doesn't cut it. CNN's sister network HLN (which once used to be called "Headline News") doesn't either, having mostly become a dumping ground for "Forensic Files" reruns. I loved the days when this channel was a non-stop news wheel, all news, all the time like KNX radio in Los Angeles or WINS in New York City. When I worked weekends in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, Headline News was my morning national briefing. I'd turn it on and get up to speed.

Fox News? MSNBC? Forget it. These networks were not built on news. Fox News was built on the news/talk radio model, but mostly on talk. MSNBC was originally designed as a convergence of internet and television -- once it got away from that, it ran off the rails. Ted Turner designed CNN to make news the star, but instead it has tried to make stars out of anchors like Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer and Don Lemon. I've enjoyed some of their documentary series like "The 60's" and "The 70's," but that's not their bread and butter.

If someone came to me and asked, "Christopher, we'd like you to put together a cable news network," I have a plan in mind.

First, we will not hire star anchors. We will make news the star again. We will line up a network of stations across the country, just like CNN has done, and we will use this material. You will hear the latest gunk out of Washington, but you will also hear about the court battles over executions in Arkansas, the students training as firefighters in Wisconsin, the prom queen in Texas who gave her sash away to a friend, or the hero in a kilt in Las Vegas. Have you looked at the front page of the Drudge Report lately? It has a wider selection of news on one page than most cable news has in one hour.

Next, when we focus on breaking news, rather than trying to report it from far away, we're going to let local stations do it with their people and their insight. We'll grab onto their special reports, webcasts or facebook live feeds and take them to air. They know their communities. We don't.

We'll start you off in the morning with a lightning round of stories and eye-openers to get you out the door. We'll go into our afternoon news wheel, around the world every 30 minutes, so you can check in and get on with your life.

I want to do a "breaking-news only" type show somewhere during the afternoon, where we show you the video and stories coming in raw and live.

We'll give you a big one-hour, network-type newscast in prime, with plenty of time for our correspondents to report and gather sound and reaction -- without pundit interviews.

Elsewhere in prime, we can dive deeper into the day's big story. Here is where I'll allow for a bit of analysis and roundtabling. But I want it more like Nightline when Ted Koppel helmed the wheel, dealing with only one, maybe two people at a time.

After prime, we'll update the top stories of the day again, rapid-fire, before you go to bed. For you insomniac news junkies, we'll have some fun. We'll do a show called "Up All Night," where we mix news of the day that just happened with some weird things like ABC's "World News Now" once did. We'll have a segment called "The News In..." where we'll put newscasts from different cities on the air. We'll run news flashbacks to stories that aired several years ago (with help from archive services and hopefully, the networks). We'll look at stories we expect to see in the day ahead. We'll read the morning paper headlines as they roll off the presses. We'll have some cool moments with entertainment news. But we'll still focus on news.

I'd like to do a different kind of entertainment news show, one like Entertainment Tonight used to be in its early days, a hard-news show that just happened to focus on the entertainment industry. Think of it as Variety or on TV. I want a show that deals with the business end along with the artistic end. I would love to get Nikki Finke reporting for us.

I want to partner up with international networks like CNN used to do with "World Report." Use international correspondents to report their stories from their countries. (Obviously, government slants become a concern here, but we'll advise people of this.)

I'd love to do an hour on Saturday mornings devoted to computer and tech news, stuff for hardcore nerds. Let's add some Slashdot flavor in.

News for kids? I would love to do a partnership with classrooms inspired by "Channel One" but more like CBS News' "In The News" segments from the 1970's and 80's.

You notice I didn't mention sports? That's because we'll treat big sports stories as news stories, working them in around other news. We don't need to have an all-sports show. ESPN does this better than we could ever do.

That's the rough outline. Dare to put me in charge?

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