Taking steps to revitalize a news channel

Jan 13, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Slap a sign on the studio chair that says “Gone Reportin’,” because the day of the TelePrompTer-dependent newsreader is coming to an end at CNN.
“This is a company of journalists, not newsreaders,” said Teya Ryan, executive VP and general manager of CNN/U.S., in an interview about what’s driving changes in the ranks of anchors and correspondents and in programming. “That’s my goal, that this is the network of reporters. I think a CNN anchor is also a CNN correspondent.”
She wants more anchors to get into the field and double as correspondents. She wants more correspondents to get off the traditional stand-up mark and to whisk viewers into the stories they are telling, to “let the audience see it for themselves,” Ms. Ryan said. “Take me there. Let me see it.”
Ms. Ryan stops short of saying, “And maybe I’ll stay longer.”
Fox News Channel has a firm grip on the day-to-day, night-to-night, hour-to-hour ratings crown. In 2002, Fox averaged 667,000 viewers for total day and 1.179 million viewers in prime time while CNN averaged 536,000 viewers for total day and 898,000 viewers in prime time. MSNBC averaged 263,000 and 360,000 in total day and prime time, respectively.
CNN has, however, begun focusing on the advantage it says it enjoys in cumulative viewership-on average, CNN attracted 72.5 million unique viewers each of the first 11 months in 2002, while Fox’s cume was an average of 54.2 million, and MSNBC’s cume was 51.8 million.
With a war with Iraq looming, CNN is convinced it has other numbers on its side: eight bureaus in the region, 150 people already on the ground and plans to take that number to 250 if events escalate.
But Ms. Ryan has to find a way to boost CNN’s viewership in between the domestic and international crises that increase audiences for all news channels.
Her intent is to articulate at CNN “a more dynamic vision” that involves everything from its look (“I believe strongly in the very aggressive and visual display of information”) to the texture of its talent.
There was a changing of a few members of the older guard at CNN in 2002. Garrick Utley opted to leave, while CNN opted not to renew the contracts of correspondents Brooks Jackson, Mark Potter, James Hattori, Allan Dodds Frank and Bruce Francis. CNN News Group Chairman Walter Isaacson has characterized the churn as “a very small turnover” in a roster of 300 anchors and correspondents worldwide.
Ms. Ryan said any attempt to characterize the moves as out with the old and in with the young is “ludicrous.”
Recent additions to CNN’s roster include Whitney Casey from WCBS-TV in New York and former CBS correspondent Jamie Colby.