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April 19, 2002
8:05 AM   Subscribe

A bit of a sea change at CNN.com: the "War on Terror" news heading, which has been part of the right column of CNN's home page since late September 2001, is gone, and not coincidentally, the massive non-news of the arrest of actor Robert Blake is the lead story. Not the growing world outrage over the Israel action in Jenin, nor the death of four Canadian soldiers by an errant US bomb.
posted by tranquileye (41 comments total)

 
Yes, hmm, if you'll check the World section, and the Asia section, where these things you're mentioning are happening, they're all there. Oh don't be embarrassed... It's a tricky site, no sweat little buddy.
posted by techgnollogic at 8:15 AM on April 19, 2002


You see? Things Are Normal Again. Revel in the mundanity and inherent meaningless of life! Wheeeee!
posted by solistrato at 8:16 AM on April 19, 2002


Hey techgnollogic, troll much?
posted by tranquileye at 8:23 AM on April 19, 2002


> if you'll check the World section, and the Asia section,
> where these things you're mentioning are happening,
> they're all there.

I don't think that's tranquileye's point, though, snarky one. The front page story is 'Homicide in Hollywood' and the headline World story is 'Boeing wins S. Korean fighter deal'. CNN is an entertainment station, and they must think people are getting a bit bored with the 'War on Where is He?' stuff.
posted by pracowity at 8:28 AM on April 19, 2002


"....growing world outrage...."

Sorry tranq, but it's more like the final death rattle of the tired, defeated left. They're good at making a lot of noise, but I don't think many people are listening anymore.
posted by mikegre at 8:32 AM on April 19, 2002


Well, so much for "the terrorist have already won". They'll never win this way!
posted by magullo at 8:32 AM on April 19, 2002


1) Amnesty International doesn't get to choose the news for anybody's site but Amnesty International. They are not God.

2) The above-the-fold (so to speak) Jenin and Canadian soldier stories have been moved off the front page because they're more than 24 hours old. Welcome to the 2002 news cycle.

3) As I look at the front page, there are FOUR stories about Israel scattered across it, all of which deal with Jenin to one extent or another. There are also four stories that relate to the War on Terror.
posted by aaron at 8:47 AM on April 19, 2002


Sorry tranq, but it's more like the final death rattle of the tired, defeated left.

Yes, mikegre. Damn those lefties for caring more about what world powers are doing than about some third-rate actor's personal life. Whatever.

Anyway, amidst all the Blake bullshit, here's a heartening little nugget. According to the CNN poll, over 70% of respondents think the trial should not be televised. I only hope someone is listening.
posted by jpoulos at 8:54 AM on April 19, 2002


The left bitch, the right bitch about the left's bitching. Those in between just insist on dying.
posted by vbfg at 9:05 AM on April 19, 2002


Tranquileye, don't you think CNN has more, um, timely things to report than 2-day-old obsolete press releases from Amnesty International? According to Reuters, Israeli Army Leaves Jenin; Aid Groups Go In.

I mean, I'm sure Amnesty International et al. are still quite outraged. You must realize, however, that isn't exceptionally newsworthy.

By the way, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the public" is a pretty old saw.
posted by dhartung at 9:16 AM on April 19, 2002


... and since I now see that MeFi has three (3), count 'em, three (3) threads on the A&F shirts, I'm really not sure this is a forum that, uh, provides a counterexample.
posted by dhartung at 9:21 AM on April 19, 2002


The independent does a better job.... as does the washington post.... This one page one is worth a read: "U.N. envoy says Israel has "lost all moral ground." " - how this gets page 2 or 3 coverage at CNN is beyond me...... they hire clowns like aaron brown though... so i guess nothing suprises me coming outta aol/timewarner these days. bring back ted!
posted by specialk420 at 9:26 AM on April 19, 2002


... and since I now see that MeFi has three (3), count 'em, three (3) threads on the A&F shirts,

How incredibly irrelevant of you, dhartung.
posted by jpoulos at 9:29 AM on April 19, 2002


"final death rattle of the tired, defeated left"

Is this the new "all your base"? It's popping up more often than domo-kun in fark photoshop thread.
posted by srboisvert at 9:51 AM on April 19, 2002


mikegre, I didn't know mass killing was a left-wing issue. Oh well.

I mean, I'm sure Amnesty International et al. are still quite outraged. You must realize, however, that isn't exceptionally newsworthy.

It has to be more newsworthy than Robert Blake, doesn't it? And I suggest all Americans here read the Globe column by Murray Campbell.
posted by tranquileye at 10:05 AM on April 19, 2002


tranquileye said: And I suggest all Americans here read the Globe column by Murray Campbell.

Interesting article. I think it does a good job of capturing the human tendency to act with irrational haste and anger in the face of tragedy. Are they upset that thier troops are there in the first place? If so, they should complain about that, and hold their tongues on this incident until more data is in. But humans are notorious for not acting as they should from a rational standpoint.

A mistake was made, and I hope the cause is found and fixed. I would imagine it's due to poor communication, and someone will have to take the blame, but the Canadians sent their soldiers to Afghanistan, and if they thought it would be a walk in the park, and that accidents don't sometimes happen in war, they are naive, indeed...

This quote struck me as especially, how shall I put it, funny:

Laura Legg, whose son is serving in the Canadian Forces, said she is angry about the deaths..."I only hope my son will keep his head down and his back covered if he ever has to fight alongside the American military."

At least son Legg will never have to fight against the American military. I'm sure there are a few members of the Taliban who would have preferred to be on America's side, if their personal safety had been their prime consideration.
posted by syzygy at 10:31 AM on April 19, 2002


Christ, did everyone miss their corn flakes this morning?

This is both a noteworthy and newsworthy event. Today's the day CNN dropped the "war on terror" shtick from their front page. Why?

As of this moment, the Blake story is the lead, with an image, while a "FBI sees a credible terrorist threat" is stuck on a sidebar, which seems rather odd. Ten years, no five years, wait, six months from now, which of the stories tranquileye mentioned will have any lasting effect? The Blake murder will be long forgotten in probably a few weeks. While the Jenin and accidental death stories are over 24 hours old and the beat goes on, they will have a much more lasting effect on the world than Robert Blake ever will.

I'm sure in 1945, the New York Times headlines eventually moved from talking about the war to the latest humphrey bogart movie, and this is a similar milestone.

Here's the real noodle scratcher: Does CNN post entertainment fluff pieces as news because that's what the public wants? Or does the public want to hear entertainment fluff stories because that's all they're used to hearing? Does CNN have any control on what subjects americans care about, or do they simply react and provide what americans want?
posted by mathowie at 11:13 AM on April 19, 2002


They will remember those poor dead Canadians for centuries.
posted by smackfu at 11:34 AM on April 19, 2002


"over 70% of respondents think the trial should not be televised. I only hope someone is listening"

You bet they are, cuz that means 30% want to see it. Those are pretty good numbers for a news network.
posted by mischief at 11:39 AM on April 19, 2002


I think it's important to distinguish between "what news Americans want" and "what news Americans who are surfing free sites on the web and only looking at the front page want".
posted by jaek at 11:50 AM on April 19, 2002


I think it's important to distinguish between "what news Americans want" and "what news Americans who are surfing free sites on the web and only looking at the front page want".

The question I posed was more fundamental than that. If someone says "What passes for 'news' these days is pure fluff, who can I blame for that?" You have to ask the question: is the news that gets reported fluff because the news director choses to report fluff as news, or because the news director gives the public what it wants, which is fluff?

It's a question I can't answer, and the networks often say the news appears as it does due to public polling and focus groups; that they are providing what people want, however, I can't find a single person that likes to read fluff as news, so I don't know who is in these focus groups, because it doesn't seem to represent the population accurately.
posted by mathowie at 12:37 PM on April 19, 2002


What passes for new is fluff because the average person is in La La Land.
posted by ParisParamus at 12:48 PM on April 19, 2002


I can't find a single person that likes to read fluff as news.

Two points:

One, the population of self-aware, reasonably hip urban dwellers is not representative of the country as a whole. I'm continually suprised by which movies do well vs. which ones I think are good, or what TV shows are popular, or even what the best-selling beer in America is. So while I don't know of anyone who would prefer to read "fluff" either, I'm sure that they exist.

Two, what people claim that they want is often quite different from what they actually want. Everyone you asked said that they wanted more healthy choices at fast-food restaraunts, yet no one actually bought the McLean Deluxe. People say that they want better customer service and more room from airlines, but by and large they accept being packed in like sardines to save twenty bucks on a ticket.

I wouldn't be suprised if "fluffy" news gets far higher ratings than one would expect from the number of people who say that they prefer it, and news directors take that into account when choosing what stories to put above the fold.

I suppose that I'm coming down on the "it's what the public actually wants" side of things.
posted by jaek at 1:15 PM on April 19, 2002


I hope you guys know that news organizations use focus groups, yes?
posted by matteo at 2:15 PM on April 19, 2002


Matthowie: "Does CNN post entertainment fluff pieces as news because that's what the public wants? Or does the public want to hear entertainment fluff stories because that's all they're used to hearing? Does CNN have any control on what subjects americans care about, or do they simply react and provide what americans want?"

Does CNN offer what they hope the public will swallow, or do they take whatever their reporters are able to find and force what they got down their audience's throats?

Do violent Hollywood movies encourage human beings to be violent, or does Hollywood provide such movies because human beings are inherently violent and that's what the audience will pay to see?

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
posted by ZachsMind at 2:31 PM on April 19, 2002


Dude, Robert Blake killed his wife. That's just like OJ, only he's white. I am so watching that. Really.
posted by owillis at 2:53 PM on April 19, 2002


is the news that gets reported fluff because the news director choses to report fluff as news, or because the news director gives the public what it wants, which is fluff?

I think it's both of those, to a certain extent. The War on Terror headlines lasted as long as news editors belived news consumers wanted them. Lately, various indicators suggest that, in the absence of any more homeland attacks, readers are losing interest.

If and when there is another attack on the U.S., I suspect we'll go through the whole thing again, and be faced with yet another round of scolding punditry: "Gawd, I can't believe we were all so obsessed with Blake's murdered wife way back then..."
posted by Ty Webb at 3:36 PM on April 19, 2002


Folks, Fox also had Robert Blake going all day, or so I noticed while watching over my shoulder at a bar around lunchtime. It was All Blake All the Time. They even showed (non-live) video of a police car with Blake in it speeding down the road. Why all this attention for the arrest of a has-been actor? My sense is that people were, to borrow a line from the Onion, so seriously longing to care about stupid BS again that CNN and Fox couldn't ignore the demand.

And I'm glad the Israeli news has slowed a bit too, to tell you the truth. My patience ran out when I read that Bush called Sharon a "man of peace." He may be a lot of things, but a "man of peace" he obviously isn't. Bush should be ashamed of such an Orwellian comment, and should be hammered for it, but I don't know if somber, 24-hour coverage of the Middle East situation in its details is going to get the idea through to many viewers. The public will just tire of what seen as bickering between two intransigent foes - which is what they're tired of already, and why you're seeing Blake as Story No. 1, actually. On the other hand, doesn't the story deserve at least *some* prime time/front-page attention?

Herein lies the problem of 24-hour news.
posted by raysmj at 4:03 PM on April 19, 2002


Herein lies the problem of 24-hour news.

And why we shouldn't give up on things like newspapers just yet. The biggest thing I got out of reading this thread was that impression that a lot of people think cnn.com is the only news source available online.
posted by WolfDaddy at 4:45 PM on April 19, 2002


As I write this, the main story is the "terrorist threat" against the banks, with a box underneath containing links to five terror war features. And the BLAKE story has been pushed over to sidebar status.

It's all about what's latest and newest, period.
posted by aaron at 5:02 PM on April 19, 2002


WolfDaddy: I was referring to both online sites and TV, and not just CNN. But, come to think of it, my impression that stories such as the Israeli conflict and the Blake story alike can be overplayed probably comes mainly from TV. On the other hand, I have been saturated with Israeli-Palestianian conflict news from metafilter and weblogs recently, much if not most of the coverage and commentary and links worse than useless.
posted by raysmj at 5:04 PM on April 19, 2002


The American public has the collective attention span of a gnat.

The only surprising thing is that "War on Terrorism" was a headliner for more than two weeks.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:19 PM on April 19, 2002


"I don't know who is in these focus groups, because it doesn't seem to represent the population accurately." - (Matt)
Focus groups = marketing demographic. Unfortunately, the financial interests of the commercial news industry rest with advertisers, not with an educated and informed public.

"Let us crush the apologist/root-cause-spewing/Western-civilization-hating/lefty-fascist essayists with blogger logic and righteous indignation. This is a mission." - (Kottke sums up a common attitude that he doesn't share.)

There's not all that much out there in the way of left independent content, so far as I can tell! My own trail of literate sites and lefty poliblogs peters out within 3-4 links of my blog. (What Vikas Kamat said: "This is how I surf the web. Turns out creating your own start page beats all portals, back-flipping, personalized corporate pages, and book-marking tools.")

Homegrown efforts like the Indie Content Web Ring are a start, but I think the real make-or-break point for getting independent news on the web will be syndication. The first major syndication players I've picked up are:
Syndic8 and
News is Free
Even though I've surfed the web for serious researchers, I find it's still way too cumbersome to compile my own world newsfeed. Maybe you have better techniques than me-- other than buying Vignette, Autonomy, and other high-end intranet tools, what are our options?

Predictions: 1. Once better end-user web syndication tools and larger flat-screen displays are developed, we'll start seeing intelligent news filtering and selection become a reality for the wired-in population.

2. Training in how to select and filter your news and information will evolve gradually out of existing library bibliographic instruction curriculums at the college and high school levels.
posted by sheauga at 6:37 PM on April 19, 2002


The words of FCC chairman Michael Powell.
'I do have regular Americans who write me complaining about the concentration of the media and viewpoints, certainly,'' he said. ''But I also have a lot of neighbors who yawn at the whole thing. ... If anything, I think we feel a tad besieged that we live in all-consuming media environment every second. Is there variety in TV? ...

''I mean, I can watch everything from a thoughtful piece on history on the History Channel to `Fear Factor.' I think we're in a period right now where we're seeing the very best that television has produced, and the very worst.''
In his view people would rather watch Celebrity Boxing than CSPAN. The consensus today is that the public can only handle one major story at a time (what coup?) and Middle East fatigue may be setting in.
posted by euphorb at 10:15 PM on April 19, 2002


People who care, or who are smart, or who are curious, will always find sources for their news. I really don't think that there is a shortage of news outlets for people to turn to, reflecting every political/cultural/moral stripe possible.

So CNN temporarily bumps war news for a piece of crap about Blake -- this, too, shall pass. I'm appalled and bewildered that the Blake thing is getting so much press (who the hell CARES?!?!), but it will cool down, and the war will shift into focus again, and then the next Media story will supplant it, and then Israel will pop up, and so and so on and so on...
posted by davidmsc at 10:42 PM on April 19, 2002


Funny, CNN has been getting hammered all day and tonight Aaron Brown comes on at 10PM and apologizes big time for their excessive coverage of the Bobby Blake arrest last night. He actually said that the story was unimportant compared to other real news they should have ran with, but "Breaking News is like heroin to newspeople". My take is that Big News is part of the entertainment industry and they stress what they think people want to hear about. September 11 and the aftermath have been the biggest (marketShareMaking) news item since OJ Simpson, so that's why the emphasis on Robt. Blake, and I look forward to the day when the news of the day actually is the news of the day, not a few short stories to fill in the daily installment of the war on terror.
posted by Mack Twain at 11:29 PM on April 19, 2002


Mr. Brown also ended his editorial saying that his April 18th's show ratings were higher than any other time since the American Airlines plance crash off Long Island last fall.
posted by tdca at 1:07 AM on April 20, 2002


Two questions:
1) Does CNN have an obligation (or should it be expected) to focus on "newsworthy" stories, as defined by people on MeFi or anyone else? (As opposed to, say, picking their stories out of a hat.)
2) If a given story is unfolding, does CNN have an obligation (or should it be expected) to report every detail (or even every significant detail) and to continuously focus on the story?

Just curious...
posted by epimorph at 2:05 AM on April 20, 2002


The answer to both questions is no. CNN has an obligation to focus on what it determines is newsworthy, not what the Enlightened Users of Metafilter determine is newsworthy. The viewing public will then vote with its remote controls as to whether it likes what it sees. The second question is a "no" simply because there are no two people on the planet that will agree on how many details of how many stories should be continuously focused on for what period of time. Again, vote with your remotes. Fox is quite different from CNN, and MSNBC is finally starting to at least attempt to get off its collective ass and differentiate itself from the other two channels. Most Americans now have access to at least a half hour or an hour of BBC News every day, and there are a zillion other news sources out there as well. Every news consumer can find what they want, if they're willing to look. The question is, are they really interested in making choices for themselves, or merely in making sure everyone else is being force-fed what THEY want everyone else to see?
posted by aaron at 2:21 AM on April 20, 2002


So then bias or the perception of same in mass media isn't a problem, aaron?
posted by raysmj at 10:31 AM on April 20, 2002


"The consensus today is that the public can only handle one major story at a time (what coup?) and Middle East fatigue may be setting in."

Wonder if the folks back home while my soft-spoken, mild mannered high school English teacher was storming the beach at Normandy experienced "WWII fatigue"? Suspect not!

"Every news consumer can find what they want, if they're willing to look. The question is, are they really interested in making choices for themselves, ..."

It's way too time consuming to unbundle the aggregated news products out there to find what I want-- even though I have the academic training to do it, I can't hold down a full-time job and keep up with the news. Nobody's marketing a packaged news product that fits my demographic, alas. There's a reason governments hire intelligence analysts and policy people-- it's a full-time job to assemble the news content that a high-level decisionmaker needs to know!

Having watched foreign correspondents in action, I'm keenly aware of the fact that I'm getting a lot of recycled meme news fragments rather than original overseas reporting. Am I the only person who's noticing all those AP stories getting a few editorial touches, then popping up everywhere else? Only a few major US papers seem to be doing original in-depth foreign material now. US local coverage is a bit better, but very few communities seem to have an independently produced, daily local news report on public broadcasting.

Wait till CNN and Hitachi get all those video streams online, and people begin to reject the idea of centralized editorial decisions regarding what's "newsworthy." This is going to get really interesting!

"Does CNN have an obligation (or should it be expected) to focus on "newsworthy" stories, as defined by people on MeFi or anyone else? (As opposed to, say, picking their stories out of a hat.)"

No obligation whatsoever. We can all expect to continue amusing ourselves to death with Chandra Levy stories, and laugh our way to the bank until the next 9-11 attack! Then we'll all sit glued and petrified next to the set for the duration of the terrorist / environmental crisis. (Great for ratings!)

Only flaw here is that when the ratings are too good due to terrorist attack, people don't buy anything, and advertising stops rolling in. Prediction: this won't deter short-term profit taking on fluff news content by broadcast media. Serious people researching vaccines, working on civil defense, transit, alternative energy, or alternative fuel vehicles, looking at more effective ways of funding higher education, overcoming the digital divide, and retraining displaced workers, developing green building codes for new and rehabbed construction, improving health services to childless adults or preschoolers, etc. will be ignored, except for occasional "feel good" trash pieces.

To see what responsible reporting looks like, go dig out some copies of "Time Magazine" from the '50s or early '60s, and compare them to what the magzine looks like today. Think about how different the phrase "a sacred public trust" sounded a week before and a week after 9-11, and then ask yourself how "a sacred public trust" applies to the media ...
posted by sheauga at 10:32 AM on April 20, 2002


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