Will CNN Learn From Its Mistakes?

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”

2 thoughts on “Will CNN Learn From Its Mistakes?

  1. “So did CNN learn anything about how to report with integrity on breaking news?”

    Oh, I’m sure they learned something, but I wouldn’t say it had anything to do with ‘integrity’. It’s a business and therefore they will walk the fine line between credibility and profits. Profits governed during the Boston story… it wasn’t a news broadcast, but rather another form of Reality Television, with very poor scripting.

    The Stewart clip really says it all… especially the ‘as if a bomb dropped somewhere’ comment. It brought Donald Fagen’s lyrics from The Nightfly to mind… Lester the Nightfly asking his listeners to “turn your radio down – respect the seven second delay we use”. If he had the ability to delay live radio back in the 50’s, surely CNN has the ability to strap a Deadman’s Switch to some idiot with an IQ above room temperature… and have him listen for anything so patently absurd that even *he* lets go of the switch in incredulous shock! That might have avoided the gaff!

  2. I love the idea of the Deadman’s Switch. Then again, that would make too much sense …

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