Cable News Network president Jeff Zucker used his keynote address at the RealScreen Summit in Washington, D.C., on Monday to promote his “new vision” for CNN that he said has expanded beyond reporting breaking news while including documentaries and films in its programming, which he described as “more shows, less newscasts.”
“We’re never going to stray from breaking news,” Zucker stated before noting that CNN “provides more news coverage on a daily basis than any other TV network in America” while broadening out “our offerings to the public, and we have moved into the nonfiction world with some success thus far.”
The CNN president then noted that he and his network “have recognized that there are many ways for people to get their news these days.” As a result, “if we rely just on breaking news, that’s probably not a long-term game.”
As he said last May, Zucker repeated the claim that his network has grown more “essential” to American audiences in recent years because the other cable news networks -- including Fox News and MSNBC -- are now “highly partisan” and “politically motivated.”
During 2014, the channel will air at least eight “docuseries” and 10 films, some of which have not yet been announced, the CNN president added.
However, he responded to charges that the channel has recently used sensational headlines and then went overboard on last week's highly extensive coverage of the Justin Bieber arrest.
Jamie Poniewozik, a TV critic for TIME magazine, said on CNN's Reliable Sources program on Sunday:
I wasn't surprised that CNN went into overdrive on this because I do think that there is a strategy lately at CNN of if something is trending on social media and so forth, then we're going to go into overdrive on it.
And I think the problem with that is you start to look very blatantly like we are just going to let Google trends be our editor and just go into overdrive on whatever is, you know, for the next five minutes really hot now.
Zucker responded on Monday by stating that CNN still devotes a lot of air time to more substantive subjects. He added:
No news organization is perfect, and CNN is not always perfect, but I think we had this right. We did cover the Bieber story, and I’m not going to apologize for what we did.
We report from Israel all the time. We have several reports a day from there. Anthony goes to Israel [on Parts Unknown], and I learn more from that one hour through the way he tells the story -- through food, travel and meeting people -- than I often do from most of our reporting that comes out of there.
“That’s not to belittle our news coverage, “ Zucker continued, “but it’s a different type of storytelling that’s incredibly informative and entertaining.”
He then turned his attention to coverage of the shooting inside The Mall in Columbia, Maryland: “We devoted almost 24 hours to what happened in Maryland here Saturday. … Yesterday, we had two hours of interview with [leaders from Japan, Iran and Egypt],
No other news organization had anywhere near the same amount of coverage. But you don’t ask me about that because it’s more interesting to ask about Bieber than what’s going on in Iran.
CNN is about interviewing world leaders, and covering what happened in Maryland, and about Anthony Bourdain, and about Justin Bieber. We have the ability to do all of that.
Nevertheless, the television executive did not address CNN's poor ratings on Monday, instead praising the award-winning “docuseries” Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown, which is currently the channel's top-rated program.
He pointed to Parts Unknown’s ability to both inform and entertain, citing that as the key factor in what the cable news network is looking for when it comes to fresh unscripted content.
Zucker also called Morgan Spurlock: Inside Man a solid ratings draw. “Adding this brand of nonfiction to CNN’s line-up has opened up the gates to not only younger demos, but also a fresh group of advertisers who perhaps had not considered getting into business with cable news networks in the past.”
Despite its president's glowing praise of CNN's programming, the network is restructuring its late morning/early afternoon schedule on Monday, February 10:
9-11 a.m.: Carol Costello
11 a.m.-12 noon: John Berman and Michaela Pereira
12 noon-1 p.m.: Ashleigh Banfield
1-2 p.m.: Wolf Blitzer
2-4 p.m.: Brooke Baldwin
Will this schedule shuffle do for CNN what Fox News's prime-time shift did for that channel? We'll have to wait and see.