It's being reported that CNN intends to make changes to their programming and on-screen production. This New York Times article describes CNN's current management as a clear & positive step forward from the old regime. A regime that contributed to our nation's current dangerous and sensational News media climate.
"Under [Jeff] Zucker, a micromanager who dictated headlines and whispered in anchors’ ears during interviews ... 'What Jeff Wants' was the mantra, and that often meant spectacle and drama. Mr. Licht is now tearing up that playbook with a management style notably different from his predecessor." - New York Times (NYT)
The article fails to give meaningful thought or attention to how that spectacle and drama has actually played out in the past years. What stories in particular? How specifically have "spectacle and drama" affected viewers' thoughts, feelings and experience? Has the National discourse been impacted? Has anyone been harmed?
The article is forward-looking, urging a sense of relief that a new establishment is here to usher in a return to "straight journalism".
"Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav has pushed CNN to return to a focus on 'journalism' as the network's ratings nosedive ... 'America needs a news network where everybody can come and be heard; Republicans, Democrats.'" - NYT
Candid statements from Cable News Executives are rare opportunities to see behind the curtain, and it behooves us to look closely. What seems a hopeful quote from Mr. Zaslav actually serves to illustrate the depth of the problem with Mainstream News. Even as he attempts to address the harm caused by Cable News' rapacious profit model, he shares the same limiting lens as his contemporaries at other networks - These powerful men seem to THINK within the limiting terms of binary political parties.
Historically, it's ALWAYS been harmful to frame the Nation's complex challenges through partisan Party lenses. It's particularly noxious these days, at a time when the Republican Party is full tilt on fascist book banning, limiting voting access, promoting revisionist histories on race, white nationalism, and Christian extremism.
Reality isn't bridled by the labels and framing constraints of the two dominant political parties. "Democrats and Republicans" are merely the simplest, most readily available categories … for a corporation looking to compete for profits, and to regain its footing as a trusted Network for elite info-tainment. "Democrats (left) and Republicans (right)" is an easily re-applicable framing lens, already deep-seated in the consciousness of American viewers.
"[Mr. Licht] also has to make sure the network makes money. With ratings down across cable, Mr. Licht has told colleagues that strengthening CNN’s reputation as a fair-minded news outfit will help attract blue chip advertisers." - NYT
This is, in fact, Mr. Licht's only true role in his current position as CNN's CEO. To secure the company's reputation, providing an appealing, profitable product. In so doing, he's tasked with assessing the broader media landscape, positioning CNN in sufficient contrast to its competitors, and ensuring the network strikes a serious tone by hiring "credible", credentialed voices.
The rightward shift has already taken hold as its been reported that CNN executives visited with Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy and John Thune to “convince highly skeptical Republican leaders” that “they would get a fair hearing … [and] should come back on its airwaves.” The noticeable change in tone and coverage has sparked outrage from some CNN viewers … causing #boycottCNN to trend on Twitter.
Meanwhile, FOX News is currently defending themselves in a $1.6 Billion dollar defamation law suit. Dominion Voting Systems is suing for damages after FOX perpetuated dangerous 2020 election fraud lies. For ratings. For profit. For political advantage with their close friends in the GOP.
Through the conflict, we can all see how things actually work.
If powerful Cable News Executives have the ability to actively move around pieces and CATER the News to different political audiences & demographics ... then what is Cable News, for real?
On Media Literacy
One of Mr. Licht's smarter moves was to part ways with CNN's Chief Media Correspondent, Brian Stelter. I have been critical of Brian, and I predicted his eventual ousting a year ago, in my entertaining, educational, and shamelessly plugged video ...
My problem with Brian was that he positioned himself as a serious media analyst, concerned with guiding viewers through a confusing media landscape. Brian more often appropriated the language of media literacy while providing cover for his organization, CNN, during the aforementioned Zucker era. Brian offered little by way of structural criticism about the Cable News business model. Stelter - however valiant in his warnings about Donald Trump - was not in a position to straightforwardly confront the challenges of today's rampant disinformation, nor meet the depth and complexity that this moment needs.
Brian's firing results from cultural formations entirely outside of his control. Through the haze and dangerous confusion of the last years, a desire for true Media Literacy has exploded among Americans. There is a burgeoning awareness & concern over simplistic narratives from our information sources. The viewer market has developed greater curiosity about the nature of human bias, social control, and how News is gathered and disseminated.
Media literacy, in part, means knowing that Corporate News content is inherently regressive. In pursuit of ratings, clicks and profit - News content makers are not in the business of educating, or expressing uncomfortable truths to their audience.
Using powerful viewer statistics known as "minute to minutes", ratings-driven News producers can observe viewer interest over each moment of a broadcast. With this information, coverage angles, tone and content can be adjusted & made to conform to the desires of the people watching. Corporate Cable News intentionally warps and contorts their News coverage - their picture of what reality is - to entice specific viewer demographics. This means Mirroring old antagonisms, dated definitions and familiar anxieties back to its audience. What a terrible mess this creates ...
A Truth About Storytelling
We are all storytellers.
When I tell you a story ... I have first decided that this is a story worth telling.
By choosing that story, I necessarily neglect myriad other stories, at that time.
Then, I choose every single word and phrase.
I can only use my limited forms of language. My vocabulary, my meanings, my perspective. I tell the story at the depth and fullness of MY choosing. I use direct language here, and euphemism there. I focus attention this way, but omit other important variables. For time. For impact. For simplicity. For lack of awareness.
I believe that normalizing this reality about storytelling sets both the content creator and the end viewer in a better orientation to discern what is Real. The deep, complex TRUTH of any event must be interpreted & filtered before it can be told as a story. By then, it is enmeshed with the goals, values and limitations of the storyteller. They are inseparable. It's all ONE thing.
And so, the academic myth of "objective journalism" is now under necessary scrutiny.
The marketing gimmick of "unbiased" News no longer has purchase with viewers.
These mythical ideas around journalism seem to serve only two purposes ...
To boost the journalism industry, falsely giving it scientific qualities.
To gain market advantage over corporate media competitors who make the same claim to their trusting, credulous viewers
Whenever a well-spoken man insists on sharing his "unbiased reporting" - that's the moment I look away. That person is telling an obvious un-truth, violating the bedrock relationship of reciprocal trust between themselves and the viewer. Whether intentionally manipulative or tragically unaware, how can I believe anything they might say next?
In 2022, and going forward, we have an interesting opportunity - to heal from divisive, conflict-driven, sensational corporate news cycles. To deliver for each other an unprecedented depth of information, analysis, and direct experience. Self-Awareness and Transparency about one’s complex biases - financial, historical, institutional, racial, psychological, political, etc - are the challenges for creating and experiencing quality News.
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