This is CNN…unfortunately

Those of us who remember when the fledgling Cable News Network began its run also probably can still hear the deep voice of James Earl Jones saying, “This is CNN…” on their promos.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I always thought a 24-hour news station would provide endless possibilities for news coverage — investigative, in-depth and insightful. Too bad we don’t have a 24 hour news cycle that meets those criteria. Instead, in the United States at least, we have just a few hours of news repeated multiple times and opinionated hatefests scattered across the networks to fill time and sell advertising.

CNN certainly isn’t the only network blowing a wasted opportunity to actually serve the public good and take the journalism industry’s credibility and importance to new heights. Back in the 1980s, as cable TV opened our eyes to the potential of 24 hours of news coverage, we still had no clue what today’s mobile, instant-access technology would be capable of delivering. But CNN, FOX, MSNBC and, sadly, even some local TV news outlets, have squandered it all in the name of expediency over accuracy and titillation over veracity.

This age of Internet-based news outlets isn’t helping, as people have come to rely on blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook status updates for their “news.” Well, here’s a newsflash: the ability to type or speak into a TV microphone does not make  you a journalist. It’s unfortunate that people aren’t holding journalists to a higher standard of professionalism. Even CNN’s foray into social media is failing us. They used the all-powerful Twitter feed yesterday to put out “breaking news” that Sandra Bullock was getting a divorce. If society is ever to trust the Fourth Estate again, they need to believe that they are being given information that is as unbiased and fair as possible. That means the politically driven agendas need to stop. That means “professional journalist” needs to reference someone trained and experienced in digging through the propaganda of news releases to find the real story, and having the resources and the chutzpah to write the stories that need to be written.

I stumbled upon a site the other day via Twitter called WTFCNN.com. It’s exactly what you’d think — a site dedicated to pointing out how ridiculous CNN’s online front page has become when compared with other news sites in the U.S. and around the world. The welcome screen explains it best:

Dear CNN,

We know you think this is what we want, but it’s not. We don’t care what random Tweeters think about a news story, how many holograms you have in your Situation Room, or even the latest celebrity gossip. We care about our world. Instead of using your resources to do the journalism that gives us a better understanding of this world — we get the front page of CNN.com. Why do we have to look enviously at the front page of Al-Jazeera English for a better sampling of important news stories at any given time?

The site has a split screen, with CNN on the top and a site of your choice at the bottom, ranging from NPR in the United States, to the BBC in the United Kingdom and Al-Jazeera (in English) from Qatar. You can also check out a similar comparison of FOX News with these sites.

I’ve found myself tuning into the BBC via Sirius Radio lately when I want real news. I still have a preset for CNN and FOX on my radio, but I almost always scan past it because of content that is insulting, annoying or simply pointless. Recently, I was flipping between the three stations to do a quick comparison of stories at that moment. I found FOX going in-depth into Larry King’s eighth divorce and CNN analyzing the reaction of Tiger Woods’ wife to the Nike commercial starring his dead father. Then I switched to the BBC and found myself drawn into a report about China’s economy and growing concerns over the growth of its Gross Domestic Product and the potential for a Chinese recession.

Certainly, not every news outlet will always get it right. And the folks at CNN and FOX will probably argue that they are giving the people what they want. Well, I’m one of those people, and I don’t think they are. I also don’t believe I’m alone. Not everyone will care about China’s economic issues, even though they probably should because of the impact it could have on their lives. But wouldn’t it be nice to hit a story like that, decide it’s not something you’re interested in, and be able to flip to another important news story at another news outlet? Wouldn’t it be great if there were more outlets delivering news that matters and not the pop culture drivel and political propaganda being spewed by “experts” and “consultants” who are nothing more than hired guns?

What do you think? Will the major U.S. news networks start to deliver news again? Or am I just old-fashioned, longing for the days when important, accurate stories were being told to us by professional journalists we could trust?

(CNN logo photo courtesy of Alan Stoddard’s Flickr stream.)

“Breaking News” is broken

Earlier this week when Tiger Woods announced he was going to have a news conference, the media began tripping over itself to share the announcement. In breathless breaking news alerts they proclaimed “Tiger Woods to speak for first time since accident.”

OK, I highly doubt Tiger had not uttered a word since his Escalade kissed a tree. What the media should have been writing was, “Tiger Woods to speak publicly for first time since accident.”

Of course, I would have preferred they didn’t report anything about Tiger and his made-for-TV-movie life. I certainly didn’t need days of breaking news alerts about the anticipated confession. I didn’t need an analysis about what people thought he was going to say. And I really didn’t need follow-up reviews of what he said, which one news outlet proclaimed would be examined “word for word” to find out what Tiger really meant. There were even news reports popping up later concerning one of Tiger’s mistresses demanding an apology from him as well.

After seeing that “news,” I posted to Twitter and Facebook with: “Tiger cheated; he’s sorry. His tramps want more attention. In other breaking news, the Earth is round.”

The worst offense in all of this media hara kiri I have to reserve for the TV networks that decided to carry the scripted nonsense live. Daytime programming was interrupted so people could watch something that belonged on the late night talk shows — as a joke.

Not everyone in the news business was happy about the decision. My hat is off to WLNS TV 6 in Lansing, Mich., which posted this on its Facebook page:

CBS will interrupt “The Price Is Right” at 11am to bring you a special report on the Tiger Woods talk. Since this talk is happening during CBS programming, WLNS is obligated to run it. Our apologies to TPIR fans.

Good for them. It’s nice to see there is some sense of normalcy in Lansing newsrooms. I had a media acquaintance of mine put it much less delicately than TV 6 did. He told me, “It used to be Special Reports were for when a President died, not when a golfer f**ked around.”

Unfortunately, “breaking news” is broken. It’s time for news consumers to break out the duct tape and try to fix it. We need to speak up and tell the news outlets that we want news that is relevant to our lives, not press conferences that remind us of the Jerry Springer Show.

So, here’s a little help to get you started. Reach out to the major networks that force-fed us this trash. Tell them Tiger is an endangered species, and if they don’t clean up their act, they will be, too.

ABC

NBC

CBS

FOX

CNN

(Image courtesy of CBS News, which is pretty sad when you think about it.)

Playing a bad lie: How Tiger botched a PR opportunity

Here’s an article I wrote for Ragan Communications:

Published: 12/2/2009

Playing a bad lie: How Tiger botched a PR opportunity
By Ari B. Adler

By not addressing his infidelity right away, Woods let rumors aggravate a bad situation

Tiger woodsSexing, texting and vexing—it’s a perfect storm of reputation destruction, and its latest victim is Tiger Woods. To make matters worse, instead of facing the publicity storm head on and getting control of the story as quickly as possible, he went into hiding. That left the story angles to those less concerned about his best interests.

It’s probably a sad testament to the times, but when Woods’ SUV ran over a fire hydrant and into a tree around 2:30 a.m. one night last week, there were plenty of people who immediately thought, “drunken driving.” When it became clear that wasn’t the case, the rumors started to expand to include painkillers, speeding and his wife chasing him out of the house with a golf club.

While the rumors and the news reports about them began to grow, Woods stayed mum. He would not talk to the press. He would not talk to police. Therefore, instead of having a bad-news story last a couple of days, he has instead been faced with a nonstop, daily thrashing of his reputation. Breaking news alerts and breathless anchors eager to share any update have now given way to the online posting of a voicemail to and “sexts” from an alleged mistress.

This type of rumor, innuendo and celebrity smackdown news has always been a possibility, but it was generally dealt with by PR pros with a shrug and, “Well, it’s the National Enquirer—no one really believes that stuff, anyway.” Now, what used to be considered salacious material best left to the tabloids is finding its way to online powerhouses like the Huffington Post and to mainstream juggernauts like CNN and ESPN.

The tagline from that 1990s cult-classic television show “The X-Files” has never been more relevant. “The truth is out there,” we were told, week after week. These days, however, PR pros need to remember that not only is the truth out there, it’s now available in electronic formats that are easily reproduced and distributed.

That means they need to be even more aggressive—both with their clients and with the media. They need to get clients to be 100 percent upfront with them about every potential PR attack. Then, they need to go on the offensive and get control of the story immediately.

In Woods’ case, the story became the story, which is the last thing he needed. In the statement he finally issued, Woods said, “Personal sins should not require press releases.” He should stick to golf and stop trying to dabble in public relations. Often, in media cases like this, a coverup becomes a bigger story than the initial indiscretion. Though it may be another sad testament to the times, a famous man cheating on his wife is a one- or two-day story. The ones drawn out in the headlines for weeks at a time are those in which only a few details are revealed at first and the rest trickle out.

Consider what would have happened if Tiger Woods had held a press conference upon being released from the hospital. It’s quite likely the basic story would have been:

“Tiger Woods announced today that his car accident occurred after he left his home following an argument with his wife over an extra-marital affair. The golf pro allegedly had a long-term relationship with a woman he met just months before his wife gave birth to their daughter. Woods said he is working through the matter with his wife and asked for privacy for all parties involved to assist in his family’s healing process.”

Anyone going on the offensive after that would have been seen as opportunistic and risked their reputations. By confessing and repenting publicly with the whole story, Woods would have positioned himself as a potential victim.

Going on the offensive isn’t going to change the facts, but it will make them less captivating and, therefore, less newsworthy. Besides, with today’s incredible-story-of-the-minute news industry and their attention-deficient audiences, it never takes long for the spotlight to shift.