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Stephen C. Rose

Stephen C. Rose

Posted: October 4, 2008 11:09 AM

How MSNBC Can Rule Cable News


Of the three major cable channels, MSNBC is my runaway favorite.

Part of it is history.

Before I had two digits to my age, I knew every nook and cranny of NBC in Manhattan's Rockefeller Center. I was a city boy with city smarts and when I could not get through the front entrances, I went up back stairs and found another way in.

Eventually, I made friends with a child radio actress named Jimsey Somers and ended up watching her perform shows like Let's Pretend from exalted perches in RCA Building studios.

I have never lost my childhood love of the place, and, in that spirit, I offer MSNBC a few suggestions on how it might rule cable news even more than it already does.

1. Actually be a 24-hour news outlet.

All the current prison filler may have a certain justice, as our society is a prison society, owing to factors which this year's election has addressed obliquely if at all. But these incessant prison shows on MSNBC have the appearance of filler.

There's a better way.

2. Do intelligent global reporting.

I realize this is expensive. But you have a global reach and intelligent reporters and there is a whole realm of unreported, important news at the fingertips of anyone who can click a mouse. There is nothing wrong with reading news.

It would be a welcome relief from the terrible error I shall next discuss.

3. Stop dumb "reporting."

Lately, all it takes is a good wreck or a shooting somewhere, or rough weather anywhere to make a "story," with hapless "anchors" trying to tell us what is happening, having no real idea themselves.

News as it happens? No. This is reality TV. The rule should be, if you do not know what is happening, find out first.

4. Be A Little Less Transparently Strapped

At present, almost all the news on MSNBC is structured with an eerie similarity. For hours in the morning and in afternoon and prime evening hours the shows are virtually repeats of each other, often with no relief in the talking head department.

I have kept MSNBC on in the background and marveled at the fact that the same talking heads will sometimes be asked the same question on different shows.

OK

Let me say what I would do if I were to walk the mile from where I live to the studio and take the reins.

I would first install Rachel Maddow as the successor to Tim Russert. In all roles.

Next, I would zap the prison telecasts and include in my news coverage attention to the scandal all this coverage manifests.

I would run a 24-hour news operation, built on the selection of about five times the number of stories currently featured.

I'd limit talking heads to one appearance on one show a day and vastly expand their number. I would expand their speaks -- sometimes ordinary people, sometimes "characters," sometimes academics who are never given a voice, etc.

I would at least threaten to cut out the tongue of any TV host who dares interrupt anyone else. In addition, I would ban taking heads guilty of extended interruption. Likewise surrogates who lie -- using FactCheck as a benchmark.

I would run each of the major hour-long shows more than once, perhaps up to three times in a 24-hour period. This would add up to 12 hours. This is done with a few already. It is better than the CNN practice of running the same news segments ad nauseum.

A nice thing about Huff is that comments are often highly intelligent. So I fully expect comments on this to be a fund of good suggestions. I cannot believe MSNBC does not have some freedom to improve itself.