Stephen Foley: What's the story on the changes at CNN?
Saturday 25 September 2010
US Outlook: So, farewell then, Jonathan Klein, president of CNN. The suits at Time Warner decided it was time to punish him for falling ratings at the news channel, which has lost out to the shock-jockery of rival Fox News and its leftist mirror image, MSNBC.
In six years at the helm, Mr Klein positioned CNN firmly on that shrinking centre-ground, something that has been made easier by the rise of MSNBC. Before that, Fox used to claim that CNN was its leftist mirror, and CNN-bashing was all the rage. Mr Klein's strategy has burnished the brand and it pays off when news breaks. It trounced the opposition during the presidential election, for instance.
But it is not breaking news that pays the bills, it is prime-time – and there Mr Klein has been slow to find solutions to rise of the extremes. Personalities such as Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and Glenn Beck on Fox have pulled away politically minded audiences, and CNN's sister channel HLN (under Ken Jautz, who will be Mr Klein's replacement) has also improved its market share with opinionated hosts and low-brow fare.
Mr Klein is right to feel aggrieved that he was fired without his bosses waiting to see if his revamped prime-time line-up works out for the channel, including the arrival of Piers Morgan as replacement for Larry King.
In a polarised political climate, CNN's role as an honest broker ought to be more valuable than ever but, on TV as online, it is not the calm voices and the fact-checked, generalist news sites that win eyeballs and advertising dollars. The sad fact is that Mr Jautz faces two choices: head to the extremes, with ideological hosts, or head downmarket, which might better fit his instincts. Neither seems likely to pull CNN out of its malaise.
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