An unholy union is ending painfully and publicly with CNN losing 90% of its audience.
The media landscape has changed drastically over the past 10 years; still more drastically in the 20 years before that. It is easy for us to forget in the modern age that the printing press was invented practically yesterday. Written language was invented only just before that.
Humankind is a species only a handful of generations off the farm, as it were, and a couple more handfuls of generations from caves and nomadic gathering. Lately, things have been moving a bit…faster.
Those of us old enough to remember a time Before Internet have a distinct before and after frame of reference. Besides paper maps, playing Oregon Trail and the Dewey Decimal System, we can remember a time when newspapers and the nightly news were the all and all.
If you wanted to be informed in 1994, a subscription to the New York Times or the Washington Post could be delivered anywhere in the U.S., and probably the world. News consumers had a whole host of magazines, newspapers, periodicals and publications from which to choose.
The nightly local news was the nightly local news; the local newspaper was the same.
After Internet, everything changed. Legacy media outlets like the New York Times at first struggled mightily with how to monetize online content, especially as demand for online content seemed likely to grow larger than the demand for traditional printed media.
Online paywalls went up, sales and market shares for traditional media outlets went down- way down. At some point, they all started merging, consolidating. Today, a scant handful of corporate media conglomerates own all the major news outlets. Local news outlets became subsidiaries, new affiliates; partners at best, satellites at worst.
With this unified corporate model, and with a market more and more saturated with choices for news consumers, legacy media outlets struggled to find their footing. A paywall was all well and good, but plenty of other, newer outlets were reporting and spreading news around, too. If a news consumer encountered a story behind a paywall, one google search could reveal hundreds of other sources available instantly for free.
One reactionary strategy emerged like an active volcano shooting up out of a cornfield. In retrospect, we can see it perfectly. The answer news networks came up with to compensate for their loss of market share, obviously, was entertainment.
People love to be entertained, as everyone from Julius Caesar to PT Barnum has noted for the historical record. We are “Wired For Story,” as author Lisa Cron, Guy Kawasaki, Shakespeare and so many others have pointed out.
By merging news with entertainment, legacy media outlets like CNN no doubt hoped to shore up their plummeting profit margins. For a while, it seemed likely to work.
With the major news networks working themselves into a lather weekly over some otherwise obscure new outrage- sounding more Soap Opera than sober news network- click-bait journalism took over the mainstream.
Entertaining the masses meant giving the audience what they wanted, without revealing any unpalatable truths. Since actual news and current events are filled with all kinds of unpalatable truths, for everyone, this news/entertainment hybrid was doomed to failure from the start.
People may like to be entertained, and though we all love confirmation bias, no one likes being manipulated or misled by a convincing narrative, even if we like the story very much.
It isn’t the same as watching a movie, where we expect and want to be misled and manipulated, and we agree to suspend disbelief in order to become absorbed in the story.
At the movie theater, this is fun; with the news, it ends in over half the country openly distrusting mainstream news institutions which successfully served the public’s trust for decades previously without fail. Throughout wars, depressions, recessions, terrorist attacks, nuclear missile scares, the war on drugs and everything else, Americans largely trusted mainstream news networks.
CNN advertiser-coveted demographics and total audience drops 90%
CNN saw a sharp decline in viewership the first week of 2022 with a nearly 90% drop both overall and in the critical…
In the scramble for viewers, by any means necessary, major media outlets instead may have lost them forever. The number of viewers who have stopped tuning into CNN could populate a small country.
Instead, news consumers are increasingly turning to alternate media outlets and new sources. Joe Rogan, Bari Weiss, Matt Taibbi, Glenn Greenwald; the list of new media darlings, their market share and influence, is growing by the minute.
The merger between journalism and entertainment was always bound to end badly.
Major media outlets which have become more entertainment than news, delivering narrative-driven news reports a la Rush Limbaugh, have found that, like Rush, they are locked into the narrative as much as their audience.
Never telling your audience of far-right conservatives, or far-left progressives, anything they don’t want to hear is becoming untenable. Audiences are increasingly getting their bad news elsewhere.
Until major media conglomerates are willing to do a major course correction, and extricate the principles of the Circus Maximus from the newsroom, the exodus of mainstream media consumers to alternative sources will continue until there isn’t anything left of the old guard but a few thousand faithfuls, the kind who know professional wresting is fake, but still manage to think of it as a serious sport anyway.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)