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Hey, CNN: It's News, Stupid!

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View Ratings | Rate It Headlined to H2 10/30/09

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Dear Anderson Cooper:

Reading an article in the 10/27/09 NY Times about your declining ratings, I wondered why my wife and I used to watch you nightly without fail, but now watch you never. (We've been driven over to the Lehrer News Hour, soporific though it can sometimes be.)

It's not you, Mr. Cooper. We continue to like and respect you -- or rather, your TV persona -- and you rate very high on the Cosby/Cronkite scale, the measure of how much we want a TV personality to join us in our home every night. (Christopher Walken's a compelling actor, but as a news host, he wouldn't last two broadcasts.)

I've come up with several reasons, most of them doubtless no news to you; but if even one offers a fresh idea, I'm pleased to donate it. In no particular order then, I think your numbers fell because:

The news itself grew less exciting. The elections ended, Iraq started winding down, Afghanistan produced nothing but same old same old, and the financial crisis continued to be essentially incomprehensible, despite heroic efforts to explain it with very large screen projections. In short, the mega-stories dried up.

Tabloid headlines filled the gap. Michael Jackson and the girl kidnapped and held 14 years etc. etc. were undeniably news of a sort; but to milk them day after day -- and sometimes week after week -- quickly irritated people who's IQ numbers are higher than their ages.
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Endless repetition substituted for the effort and expense of covering additional news. The rest of the world was squeezed into 60 second mashups while the megillah du jour was rehearsed again and again. The visuals themselves were maddeningly repetitious (If I see Madoff led into court just one more time!).

Talking head pundits grew more and more polarized. For every David Gergen, who actually functions as a news analyst, there was a pro wrestling ring full of costumed party liners, delivering the spin -- ranging from left to right, to be sure, but nonetheless whirling like flywheels.

Computer enhancements grew more and more manic until the screen boiled with meaningless color and motion and audio transitions whooped as if synthesizers had just been invented. Circuses are equally loud, frenetic, and gaudy, but I can't take their hoopla five nights a week.

Together, these changes produced one fatal result: your broadcast lost its essential identity as a news program.

Adding wingnuts like Fox or seizure-inducing graphics like E! will only destroy the remnant of integrity that Anderson Cooper 360 retains. Instead, why not restore the format of a true information hour? Present a wide variety of news. Keep those studio Steadicams moving but spare us fake backgrounds full of clocks and monitors. Above all, dispense with pundits who sound like spokespeople for political lobbies. Give us variety in viewpoint and opinion, but see that it's thoughtful and nuanced. (For instance, though I'm a Progressive, I listen to David Brooks with respect.)

Will this prescription return you to the top of the cable news tree? I don't know; but as the old lady said about giving chicken soup to the man who'd just died of a heart attack, "It couldn't hurt!"
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A career writer and media maven, Jim Stinson is the author of four mystery novels and a college textbook, Video: Digital Communication and Production. His newest novel, Tassy Morgan's Bluff, will be out from Penguin Books in June 2011. He lives with (more...)

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Right on Jim. For American news I watchthe Lehre... by Rolland Miller on Friday, Oct 30, 2009 at 6:16:37 PM
Thanks, Rolland. Where do you pick up CBC? I'm on ... by Jim Stinson on Friday, Oct 30, 2009 at 6:52:38 PM
Hi Jim. I am located in British Columbia so we get... by Rolland Miller on Saturday, Oct 31, 2009 at 10:48:37 AM
I turned off the news of ABC, CBS, and NBCaround 1... by John Kusumi on Friday, Oct 30, 2009 at 6:34:38 PM
CNN is a sedative, and a pacifier that some of us ... by John Kusumi on Friday, Oct 30, 2009 at 6:45:25 PM
Then where do you get your news, John?And what wou... by Jim Stinson on Friday, Oct 30, 2009 at 6:57:21 PM
Well, in a hunter-gatherer economy, the thing to d... by John Kusumi on Saturday, Oct 31, 2009 at 12:37:52 AM
Thanks for the sources, John; but never, ever trus... by Jim Stinson on Saturday, Oct 31, 2009 at 2:05:34 PM
The news commentary shows on MSNBC in the evening ... by PrMaine on Sunday, Nov 1, 2009 at 9:49:59 AM