Monday, June 20, 2005

Jonathan Klein's Schizophrenic Approach to the News

A piece in Newsweek on CNN President Jonathan Klein reveals, once again, a man who is all talk...and that's meant literally. Klein seems to feel that if he says he's focusing on serious, 'hard' news, that makes up for the drivel routinely served up on the now perennial second-place cable news network. The Newsweek article is yet another in an endless series of 'how Klein is remaking CNN' pieces that seem totally out of touch with the results seen on the screen. Indeed, the overwhelming impression to a reader of the article is that Nancy Grace is far more influential than Klein could ever hope to be.

Talking to Newsweek a few days after the Michael Jackson verdict:

Klein said he regretted the 'endless parade' of stories CNN aired with 'Michael dressed like Captain Crunch, walking out of the limousine.' He marveled at opportunities lost: 'We could have done 60 stories during that time.'
This is vintage Klein: bemoaning the lack of substantive programming as if he had nothing to do with it.

The most baffling aspect of Klein's endless makeover is his desire to increase the focus on hard news by...storytelling. To wit:

His unorthodox, even heretical game plan: serious news that doesn't put viewers to sleep. "There's a palpable thirst out there for the broad scope of stories if they're told in a compelling way," Klein says...Forever roaming the halls and popping in on producers, he's transformed CNN culture - news meetings are now singularly focused on finding characters and discussing storytelling technique. In the past, CNN was plagued by a bumbling media image. Klein has imposed strict message discipline and many staffers refused to talk on the record about the network for fear of losing their jobs. Privately, though, many staffers express discontent with the new regime...

One can be forgiven for wondering if this is a news network or a movie studio. Klein's fatal flaw is a mistaken premise. Those who want serious news don't need it couched in terms of 'character development', as if the world were a screenplay; while those who do want personality-focused news are surrounded by it, swimming in it, indeed unable to escape from it. The sad thing is that the president of Cable News Network has yet to learn this reality.

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