CNN’s extensive coverage of missing Flight 370 is a reminder that journalism is primarily a business.
The channel even used “Reliable Sources,” its Sunday journalism show, to justify the coverage. How do you like that self-congratulation?
Erik Wemple of The Washington Post praised the nonstop coverage and defended Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide.
“If he doesn’t go all-out on this story, he should be fired, because CNN is perfectly positioned to do this story,” Wemple said. “It brands itself as a way up the middle of this ideological cable divide. … It’s an international story. CNN is way more suited to carry out this story. … It has bureaus everywhere.”
Wemple and host Brian Stelter dismissed criticism from Fox News‘ Bill O’Reilly as basically fear. CNN’s airliner coverage had managed to overtake “The O’Reilly Factor” in the 25-to-54 age group, another reminder that journalism is primarily a business.
Wemple said O’Reilly “lost in the demo the younger viewership three nights in a row last week, and he started getting nervous.”
Stelter agreed that any loss by ratings leader O’Reilly was a big deal.
Not everyone at Fox News agrees with O’Reilly about the coverage. Greta Van Susteren of Fox News sent a message to “to those hand wringers going on TV or writing columns to criticize or announce some personal upset about the extensive coverage of Flight 370.”
But the main criticism, for the first 15 days, was that there wasn’t news and that news channels often resorted to nonstop speculating. Even as the ratings climbed, viewers had to recognize there wasn’t a lot there.
Still, there’s no denying that CNN hit on a formula with the airliner coverage and built bigger ratings. Zucker has often stumbled with his efforts at CNN, and that has been duly noted. Shouldn’t his successes be acknowledged as well?
Journalism is an attention-getting business. CNN and Zucker got many people’s attention. They didn’t shed a lot of light, but they did hook many viewers and kept them watching.
It may not be the most noble use of media, but as the journalism business splinters and re-invents itself, survival is a big deal.
Just ask any journalist who has lost a job. Most would still like to be part of the business.