Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Interesting take on media coverage

CBS has a fascinating interview up with former Marine and current Al Jazeera English correspondant Josh Rushing. If you haven't heard of Rushing before, he's got a unique perspective on the war in Iraq and on American and international news coverage.

Here's his take on cable news -- it echoes what I've long thought and it's something that people who routinely bash television news ought to consider:

"The deal with American media right now? I’ve given them a hard time in recent years. For all the Anna Nicole and all the Paris Hilton stories and the lack of hard-core news reporting, the truth is it’s not their fault. The American media has a moral obligation to its investors to increase its profit by increasing its viewership.

"One example: Anderson Cooper scored a sit-down interview with Condoleeza Rice when she came back from Israel and Palestine. That’s a great exclusive for a reporter, the Secretary of State coming back from the Middle East.

"His competition that night, on Greta and Rita, are both reporting live from Florida on day four of the Anna Nicole thing. After they’ve spent hours of their air-time during the day to Anna Nicole, they’re doing more of it.

"That night was one of the first nights that MSNBC beat CNN in prime-time since I don’t know when. And Greta’s numbers on Fox News were three times Anderson Cooper’s. So if you’re in charge of CNN, you owe it to your investors to look at those numbers and increase your viewership. You better get Anderson talking about Anna Nicole Smith. You have an obligation to do that.

"If you look at CNN a couple months later, Paris Hilton gets out of jail. Larry King Live gives her an entire hour to speak. I don’t think she knows an hour’s worth of vocabulary, enough words to fill an hour. Larry King’s numbers on that night were six times his usual audience. If you look the Monday and the Wednesday – on either side of the Tuesday they sat down with Paris – he was averaging 500,000 viewers. When he interviewed Paris, he had 3 million viewers.

"CNN and all these networks are designed to do that, to draw in an audience."

ME AGAIN: Now, there is another point to consider: While CNN may have a fiduciary obligation to attempt to get 3 million viewers rather than 300,000, neither of those numbers is a very large slice of the total audience pie. So while Condoleeza Rice may not draw the audience that Paris Hilton does, neither of them gets a fraction of what even Katie Couric does just for showing up. So if the networks allow their coverage to be influenced by what the cable news networks do, they're reaching for the lowest common denominator.

It may be true, even on a national level, that more people are interested in Hilton than Rice, but the number of people willing to make their viewing decisions on that basis is pretty small. So what makes Fox or CNN or MSNBC successful may be ineffective or counter productive on a broadcast network.


At 1:57 PM, August 01, 2007, Anonymous ethan said...

John Rushing is a very interesting guy. He was a central character in the non-fiction film "Control Room," at which time he was a US Marine Captain working as a press officer for CENTCOM (US Central Command). That film gets into what we know and, more importantly, what we don't know about the war on Iraq ... and why/why not.

His affiliation with Al Jazeera has earned him significant scorn from some military types, but his words have never sounded so true.

At 8:07 AM, August 02, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Larry King may get the large one night numbers on cable but viewers have made the choice for cable outlets for more in-depth news and information not covered on the 22 1/2 minute netcast. Let E handle the fluff and have the news outlets continue to provide needed information and point of view from throughout the world

At 10:12 AM, August 02, 2007, Blogger AndyW said...

Rushing's point is that Fox pulls better numbers with round-the-clock Anna Nichole coverage than CNN did with substantive news. So the "in-depth news and information not covered on the 22 1/2 minute netcast" was, in this case, additional hours, days and weeks devoted to a ridiculous celebrity tragedy, albeit one that viewers showed a lot of interest in.


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