Thursday, June 24, 2010

No News Is Bad News For CNN

Jonathan Klein, the CNN/U.S. president, said yesterday that the new 8 pm show co-hosted by Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker, would be a “roundup of all the best ideas” of the day. Which sounds a bit like plagiarism.

But the real news here is not what the new show is, but what it isn't.

Even if Spitzer and Parker overcome their very limited television hosting experience, and their show offers a variety of viewpoints with a minimum of shouting, it is still not the show CNN should be doing at 8 pm. In fact, they shouldn't be doing a "show" at all.

Instead of coming up with a toned down version of the discredited "Crossfire", CNN should have returned to its long forgotten roots and made the 8 o'clock hour a newscast. Although CNN covers "breaking news" during the day, there isn't a comprehensive, scripted hour of news anywhere on their schedule.

With their expansive global news resources, CNN is well positioned to produce a compelling, substantial hour of news that would also do well in the ratings. Another talking heads show, even if it is a more even-handed one, cannot compete against Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann. The neglected demographic is the sizeable group of people, like myself, who crave a newscast in the mold of BBC World News and Canada's The National.

And 8 pm would be an ideal time to hook the news junkies who aren't home at 6:30, or find the network news shows at that hour to be increasingly not worth watching, because of their high fluff factor.

CNN could start a solid newscast like this in a matter of days, not weeks or months. There are many highly qualified reporters already at CNN who could handle the anchor chores. And the reporters in the field around the world give CNN a global reach the networks can't match.

There should be a place somewhere on CNN's schedule for an opinion show that truly delves into issues with intelligence and civility. But what we really need at 8 pm is not the talk show CNN will be giving us in the fall. We need a newscast that is all about the news, not the person delivering the news.

If CNN did an 8 o'clock newscast, it would be good news for the industry and for our country.