CNN’s Costly Rating Mistake…

I am sure almost every person in this country and probably even the entire world is aware of the Boston Bombings.

If not, you should be ashamed of yourself! It was all over the internet, all over social media sites and all over the news. Even regular primetime shows were cut to show breaking news update coverage of the aftermath and the chase to find the suspects.

With that background knowledge of how important this news event was, I can explain how CNN ended the week coverage last in ratings after the capture of the last suspect.

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Breaking news is like a cycle…

At the beginning, there is talk about what happened through the local news. If it’s serious enough, the larger networks will use affiliate channels to broadcast to other cities and states. Once it is declared that something is really serious, like a bombing at a marathon, the larger networks gather their best and leading anchors and reporters and send them to the location to cover the story. This usually takes place within 6-12 hours.

Once these big named and best reporters get to the location, they fight amongst each other to see who can break the story first – who can find out what really happened, the background, and any updates before it is really released to the press. As the fight is established, they begin to rely on sources to give them “exclusive scoops” on what is going on so that they can rub it in everyone’s face.

So what CNN did was exactly what I just wrote…

One of its reporters, *cough* John King, said that an arrest had been made and informed viewers that a source told him. For a little more than an hour CNN kept saying “we have the exclusive” and “CNN has exclusively learned” blah, blah, blah. That whole hour, the network rubbed it in all the other networks and for viewers to see, that they heard it first on CNN. Slowly, other news organizations began reporting the wrong information.

The Associated Press reported a suspect was in custody based on a single source who continued to stand by this information even after the FBI said no arrest had been made. The Boston Globe reported a person was in custody and en route to the courthouse. Fox News and Boston’s WBZ-TV also reported an arrested had been made, while NBC and CBS did not.

After an hour of CNN gloating about its exclusive, a source texted him and on live national TV. He read the message aloud, “significant progress has been made, but no arrest. Anyone who says an arrest is ahead of themselves.”

How embarrassing is that?

So quick to jump the gun, there was no time to even read the message to himself. This is what I am talking about, the rush to break a story and be the first. There should be a rush to break an accurate story. That big mistake and opportunity to poke fun of CNN, bought them down in ratings for the coverage.

During the 8pm hour when the actual capture of the suspect was going on, NBC had 10.7 million viewers, ABC had 7.8 million viewers, Fox News Channel had 7.6 million, CBS had 6.9 million, CNN had 6.8 million and poor MSNBC had 1.7 million viewers. Now I think we should all keep in mind that CNN and FOX News are cable channels and not broadcast channels, so individuals without cable cannot watch CNN or FOX News. But I am not sure if the survey counts for any online viewers.

I am coming down on CNN so hard, because one of the first things you learn either in school or as a reporter is to always verify the information given. Not only that, that same reporter John King, gave a very vague description of an apparent suspect who did not exist. He mentioned on live TV that the potential suspect was a “dark-skinned male.”

Now to be fair, he defended himself for both issues.

He said:

“’I went back to the Boston law enforcement sources who said we got him, I said, Got him? Identification on arrest?” King continued. “The source says can’t talk to you right now, says there is significant blowback at the leaks. Says there will be more information later today.’”

For what seemed as a racist and ignorant comment, King wrote:

“’Source of that description was a senior government official. And I asked, are you sure? But I’m responsible. What I am not is racist?’”

It could have been that the suspect was ID’d and not arrested. For the dark skinned comment, well that’s just journalism 101 not to ID someone based on their race or color of their skin, because the likely hood of you offending someone is obvious and it doesn’t matter what the color skin is. It is extremely pointless, saying a dark skinned male is on the loose without giving a height, weight or description of what he was last wearing. That simple description he gave right away showed ignorance, even if a source said it. As a journalist, he should have known even before he said it, that it is not a good idea to give that vague description.

**I am not bashing CNN in anyway, just spreading my strong opinion and disappointment in the way it handled the reporting of that coverage and the unfortunate fate that one reporter’s mistakes reflected the whole of CNN’s broadcast. Even after the two incidents I still watched CNN among two other networks for the coverage.**

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