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The Year In Media

December 27, 2010

The Sherrod story will forever be engrained into every television producer from now on. It's a lesson on what bad journalism is and why going to the source and asking questions is still the basic fundamental of the business.

But it's also lesson on how big the media's power is. Cable news has enough influence on high government officials, that they would fire someone because of only a soundbite. And because of how rapid news flows these days, Sherrod was fired over the phone, on her way to work.

While the CNN was the network that excelled in reporting the Sherrod scandal, their objection to go the ways of MSNBC and FOX News, is their angel and devil complex.

In five words, CNN had a bad year.

You've read about their structural problems in an extensive Vanity Fair expose, "How long can the respectability strategy prevail," wrote Michael Wolff. "Without an audience?" And you've seen countless articles on their dismal primetime ratings.

Broadcast executive Jon Klein was fired as his last hires former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Washington Post conservative columnist Kathleen Parker were tanking in the ratings. "Parker Spitzer" averaged 140,000 viewers, in the 25 to 54 key age demo during their first few weeks. Their lead in, "John King, USA," hasn't fared much better, either.

And to top it off, Larry King, a CNN icon, turned over his coveted 9 p.m. timeslot after 25 years at the network. Paving the way for a questionable hire of British journalist Piers Morgan, most known to U.S. audiences as a talent judge of NBC's "America's Got Talent."

However, to CNN's credit they still turn a huge profit and even attract more viewers during big news events like the Chilean Miner Rescue. And they are still hiring, which is more than most networks can say. ABC News, for example, cut a significant portion of its staff this year.

In fact, it's hard to determine the bigger story: CNN's decline or the media's obsession with CNN's decline.

With a new leader in Ken Juatz, CNN has the opportunity to change the landscape of cable news, once again. Rumors have even started to swirl about a CBS/CNN partnership. Whether or not a partnership happens, CNN, once a leader and pioneer in cable news', has a chance in 2011 to reinvent themselves, with nothing to lose.

While CNN has nothing to lose, NBC Universal does. When GE announced a year ago their plans to sell their stake in network to cable giant, Comcast, it was to some a media match made in heaven.

The union between the two huge media companies would create one of the biggest media outlets and the year plus process highlights the complexity of that merger.

But the road to media marriage bliss has been long and complicated. "Comcast's recent willingness to violate net neutrality demonstrates the need to stop its merger with NBC," Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) told media site The Wrap. "That is why I recently urged the FCC to block the merger."

The merger has to be approved by the FCC and the DOJ -- a process that is still ongoing. Controversy hangs over proposed net neutrality regulations.

Comcast-NBCU expect the FCC to rule by year's end, which is evident as both companies have already restructured their top brass.

While these stories have a lasting impact, there were a few story lines that caught and rallied viewers attention. The firings of NPR's Juan Williams, or the two-day suspensions of MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and Joe Scarborough ruffled a few feathers on the ethical standards or media organizations. NPR did make a statement with the dismissal of Williams, but Fox News, who doesn't carry the same contractual standards, quickly snapped him up. And Olbermann and Scarborough got more of what seemed like an un-paid vacation rather than a firm hand laying down the rules.

And of course, how can you forget the rallies. Glenn BeckEd ShultzJon Stewart and Stephen Colbert all held rallies on the National Mall. All were fun to watch and that's about it.

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