It’s a tough week to be CNN. A year into Jeff Zucker’s stewardship, CNN founders, suffering 20-year ratings lows this week. It has less identity as a network than ever. Zucker promises to maintain a focus on hard news while expanding scripted, documentary and reality programming. You know, keep throwing stuff at the wall until something sticks.
Some of that programming works and gets ratings, most notably Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown,” which collected two Emmys last fall. And I say they were well deserved; the episode that explored Libya provided a more fascinating and truly human understanding of the post-Gadhafi life and culture than any news network could capture these days.
CNN also created buzz and big ratings with Blackfish, a compelling look at the deadly history of captive whales and their trainers at Sea World and other water parks.
But A&E, Discovery Channel, The History Channel and the Food Network have covered this territory for years. Can CNN really reestablish a distinctive brand as another network among the herd of documentary and reality programming?
Because the news part of CNN is bleak. We have already lamented CNN.com’s embarrassing, breathless click baiting when young celebrities misbehave. (And I’ll link again to The Onion’s hilarious evisceration of CNN.com for it here. As well as the pathetic defense by Variety‘s Andrew Wallenstein here.)
This week, CNN doubled down. I’m sure news editors are clearing Peabody shelf space for tonight’s hastily produced 30-minute shit chunk “Justin Bieber’s Wild Ride.” Proud times, CNN.
While CNN pursues its desperate ratings heartthrob crush, it also announces the plank walk for 40 long-time actual journalism types across its networks. A CNN spokesperson reassures us that it is “expanding the definition of news” and will ultimately add 100 people this year.
I had a lot more complaints about CNN, but as I wrote they all just seemed like ideological attacks, which they’re not. I just miss the news. And to make sure this doesn’t seem like a pathological personal hatred for CNN, here’s the proudest moment in Bieber journalism, when Andrea Mitchell (!) interrupts a congresswoman mid-sentence in a serious discussion about the scope and boundaries of NSA surveillance.