THE BLOG
05/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Cable Television News 3.0: My Proposal

Now I realize that what follows here might be characterized as biting the hand that has fed me. If it hadn't been for cable news networks I wouldn't be nearly as well known and my company would have had to fight much harder for attention. Now I am older and I've changed -- but cable news has changed, too and not for the better.

Here is my premise: cable news has to change to save itself. Fox and MSNBC are loud, repetitious, paranoid, arrogant ("if only the stupid people would get it", they seem to be saying) and ultimately serve no purpose beyond pleasing several hundred thousand members of the "Amen Choir" on both left and right. There is simply not enough news in 24 hours to perform their original service of following the news. Thus, these networks have been reduced to finding filler. On Fox it is the snarky cranks who rant about the same thing all day every day. On MSNBC, pretty much the same. And then there is CNN -- a fine news gathering organization -- and its endless chatter from experts who talk to each other on and off the air and manufacture a conventional wisdom that too often betrays what the public is actually telling us in our polling. What is really sad about CNN is that it has been reduced to covering itself and its celebrities. "This is Anderson Cooper in Port-au-Prince. Watch Anderson Cooper's biceps; see Anderson Cooper covering it all, doing it all. Hey, be careful Sanjay. That is Sanjay serving patients, being a doctor. Only on CNN. We make the news, so you can see it only here." What is even sadder is that this is not how CNN International operates -- they cover real stories about the real world.

Now the obvious response is that money is being made and people are watching. Except that the argument is false. It reminds me of the U.S. auto manufacturers who used to say that they were only producing what Americans wanted. Somehow they missed the record sales numbers by Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, and other foreign cars that were better made, more fuel efficient, and safer. If O'Reilly is being watched by 3.5 million people on a good night then exactly 304,500,000 Americans are not watching him. Think of it that way.

Here is my proposal. First, maybe it would be best if these networks resorted to doing what they do best: sending out great news people during real crises. Real crises. What should they do in between crises? Not resort to slow speed car chases somewhere in L.A. or "Balloon Boys" in Colorado, but just post a sign like the old civil defense systems I remember as a kid. "If there is a real crisis, stay tuned to this channel for the best coverage." Second, please go to the disembodied voice. The power of television news is the visual of the event, not the celebrity covering the event trying to fill things in with idle chatter. Watch the BBC as a model. Do we really need Gina Jones and Lance Smith covering themselves covering themselves? Audio narratives would provide the tasteful overview to the actual pictures.

I say this without malice or satire. I really mean this. Will someone step forward?