Yesterday CNN reported record ratings for its coverage of the recent Boston Marathon bombings. According to The New York Times, “For its full day of coverage [on Friday, April 19], CNN, whose ratings always spike during periods of breaking news, posted ratings that topped every other event it has covered in the last 10 years — aside from big political days like presidential elections.” The cable network also reported record traffic on its website for the same day. This morning, Poynter.org reported that CNN.com had more than 173 million page views, “the 3rd highest day on record after Election Days 2008 and 2012,” according to a CNN spokesperson.
So why is all this noteworthy? Because CNN’s coverage of the bombings has been criticized for the way in which it valued speed over accuracy. As I reported on April 18, the network erroneously reported that an arrest had been made and that the suspect would be appearing in court. In another example, shown in the clip above from “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” a CNN reporter opined about the empty streets of Watertown, “it’s as if a bomb has dropped somewhere.”
As it reports record cable ratings and web traffic, it seems that CNN is basking in competitive glory. The Times’ Bill Carter wrote that “CNN averaged 2.9 million viewers for its daylong coverage, behind the 3.2 million who watched Fox News. But among viewers between the ages of 25 and 54, which is how advertisers buy commercials on news channels, CNN had 1.34 million viewers, compared with 952,000 for Fox News.” I’m certain the network will feel the need to share its performance with advertisers. In fact, it seems quite proud of itself. In a memo, CNN chief Jeff Zucker congratulated his staff saying in part “our audiences have responded, making it clear that they rely on us in ever increasing ways. In front of the cameras and behind the scenes, you have shown the world what makes us CNN.”
So did CNN learn anything about how to report with integrity on breaking news? I’m afraid only during the next high-profile breaking news story will we know for sure.
Sources: Poynter.org, nytimes.com, politico.com, “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart”