Flush from the success of their mostly news-free coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign, the major news networks have directed anchors and correspondents to refrain from traditional news reporting and focus on what they do best -- glitz, opinion, "happy talk," sarcasm and stating the obvious.
"Newspapers are dying and audiences growing more impatient with so-called "objective journalism," says one insider. "Why should we follow such a failed business model?" A leaked memo from CNN president Jonathan Klein praised network stars like Wolf Blitzer for "getting it."
"We don't want viewers to feel ignorant or unaware of information some TV reporter says is 'important,'" the memo says. "When Wolf Blitzer says "you're in the Situation Room" or he's part of the "best political team on television" every 24.5 seconds he is projecting a reassuring air of stability, and when he announces an upcoming interview with a newsmaker he is careful to show only a few seconds of the footage at any one time, and then immediately shift to a correspondent to ask, "what do you make of that?"
The new policy quantifies and rewards the new approach with specific guidelines. At both CNN and MSNBC, rules are in place to play to correspondents' strengths such as eye-rolling, giggling, personal comments, interrupting guests and talking about the weather. Network insiders point to the skill of correspondents like Mika Brzienski, Campbell Brown, Keith Olbermann and others who keep their focus on themselves and avoid what focus groups have called "boring facts."
"Broadcasts will be monitored to ensure that the risk to viewers of being exposed to something they don't already know is eliminated or kept to a minimum," the CNN memo says. A similar document from MSNBC announces the introduction of "laugh meters" to rate programming and directs all correspondents to continue the practice refined in recent years of beginning every report after being introduced with a vacuous comment from a news anchor with the words, "you're absolutely right."
"We're abolishing ambiguity," an MSNBC executive told advertisers at a recent corporate retreat. "In these uncertain times, it's up to us to project certainty and dependable light-hearted banter."
"If someone wants to see actual news," the executive continued, "they can watch C-Span -- or the bloody BBC."
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