Hey Jeff, Here's How You Can Fix CNN, Part 2. This Time the Advice Comes From a Broadcaster in This Guest Commentary
[Note: This guest blog entry is written by Bill Bauman, who addresses his comments to new CNN boss Jeff Zucker. For many years Bauman was the GM of WESH, Hearst Television's NBC affiliate serving Orlando, Fla. He retired five years ago. Bauman's last guest commentary for us was "Some Questions for the New CEO of The New York Times About the BBC Child Abuse Scandal"]
Congratulations. It is good to see that you are back in a big chair. And the age of 47 is perfect for taking on this task. Old enough to have learned a lot, and young enough to still have the energy and confidence for the mission.
To my mind, CNN is one of the three most iconic brands of news in the world. The BBC, The NY Times, and CNN, in no particular order, are the very best. I flipped around a lot on election night, and kept coming back to CNN. Your technology, graphics, coverage and analysis were head and shoulders above your competitors.
I am probably biased towards CNN because of a lunch I attended years ago with Ted Turner. I remember him saying that he set out to do something completely audacious. He said, “I’m going to put reporters, photographers, and producers all over the world. And I’m going to send up a bunch of satellites. And I’m going to do the news from around the world, 24 hours a day, every day, forever.” Ted was pretty impressive. Visionaries tend to be.
Obviously your big challenge is prime time, and I have a few modest suggestions about that. First, I would get rid of Piers Morgan. He is just awful. Second, I would flip Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer. Anderson is good, but I think his demographic appeal is similar to Oprah. Give him 4-6 p.m. Move Wolf to 6-8 p.m.
I would create a new national newscast at 8 p.m. I don’t know if it is one or two hours. How about Matt Lauer as the anchor? He might be available, and would probably love to work for you again. I would model it after the longest-running, highest-rated, best news program on the air for the past 25 years. I would do "60 Minutes" every night. You certainly have the infrastructure. Like the BBC, you have people all over the world. What I don’t think you have are great storytellers. In my experience, audiences respond to great stories.
So I’d go out and get some of those people. You know who they are. I’d start by looking at ESPN and "Real Sports." Jeremy Schaap comes to mind. Mike Lupica, Frank Deford, Bernie Goldberg, Mary Carillo. From the nets I’d steal Steve Hartman and Armen Keteyian. They may be unavailable, but you know what I mean. You must have some already. Where has Christiane Amanpour been? These are the kind of correspondents I would recruit. And I would turn prime time over to them.
I would banish meaningless live shots, streaming video and intrusive graphics. I would charge these reporters with telling great, compelling stories. Just look at the success of "60 Minutes." I think under your leadership, CNN could produce a show like that every night.
You’ve taken charge of a great news organization. Go back to your roots. Do what Ted said CNN was all about.