Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Thirty Years of CNN

I didn’t see the initial broadcast of CNN on June 1, 1980 for the simple reason that I didn’t have cable TV at the time. The apartment complex in Evansville hadn’t been wired yet. But when I got back from Colorado that August, there it was, staffed with vaguely familiar faces of second-tier TV reporters from the networks who had jumped ship and some who had been brought back from retirement to make Ted Turner’s dream of a 24/7 newscast come true. Hey, it worked for radio.

It got off to a rocky start by covering a lot of cats-in-trees stories to fill the 24/7 (some folks said CNN stood for “Chicken Noodle News”), but it did cover breaking news such as the Challenger disaster in 1986. It’s also had some god-awful attempts at re-branding and trying to stay “relevant” — a strange ambition for a news network. I used to watch it when it had some good reporting and interesting interviews, but it’s basically become a tabloid service; it’s the network you turn to for the latest news on the disappearance of pretty white women and celebrity gossip. That fate was sealed during the O.J. trial and the persistence of the penetrating interviewing style of Larry King, who has been described as Mike Wallace on Valium. Now I don’t even know where it is located on my cable system.

As is often the case, the first to create something is often outdone by those that follow after (remember the DuMont TV network?). Fox and MSNBC consistently beat CNN in ratings. Maybe that’s because opinion disguised as news sells, but I think it has more to do with thinking that their attempt to be the “most trusted name in news” means they refuse to do journalism as opposed to stenography. That’s what C-SPAN is for.