So over here you’ve got CNN, which has a big international newsgathering organization, but whose corporate daddy (and mine), Time Warner, is like, too totally cheap to buy it a sibling broadcast network, like all the other kids have, which is, like, totally unfair.
And over here, you have CBS, the network that has a decades-long tradition of being called the network that used to have the decades-long tradition of having a strong news division.
One of them’s got a chocolate bar that’s been broken into pieces by its corporate owner, and the other’s got a jar of peanut butter, 60% of which has been scooped out and sold to increase the share price for Viacom shareholders. In the TV news business, we call that two once-great tastes that taste great together!
Reports the New York Times, the two networks are once again in talks to ally their news divisions. CNN would provide news reporting, allowing CBS to, ahem, “reduce its newsgathering capacity.” (Where would those cuts come from? Hint: not Katie Couric’s $15 million salary!) CBS would provide CNN a bigger platform to air its reports somewhere where they wouldn’t get in the way of Lou Dobbs’ ranting.
CNN has tried but failed to reach, similar agreements before, and CBS denies to TV Week that such a plan is being considered at all. In any case, the benefits would be not so much about the quality of network news as about finding a way to continue to have network news at all. (If you care about that sort of thing, which, statistically speaking, you don’t.) Analysts have long suggested that, with network news audiences continuing to shrink, the day would come when one of the nightly network newscasts might go away; CBS’s, which remains in a distant third place, would be the likeliest candidate.
This deal, however, suggests a third way: a network newscast would remain in place, keeping its storefront and the brand sign on the doorway, but the actual newsgathering work would be farmed out to someone else. The CBS newscast wouldn’t go away; there would just be less actual CBS News in it. Not to be callous to the worthy reporters who would probably lose their jobs in such an arrangement, it does make some sense. To the extent that the network newscasts—unadventurous, and appealing ever more cautiously to a shrinking and aging viewership—have any advantage at all anymore, it’s simply the fact that they are there. They occupy a time slot and brand space, and they have the advantage of the ingrained habits of an audience whom medical science may manage to keep around longer than any of us expected.
The question, I guess, is a few years from now, who will CNN in turn outsource its newsgathering to? Maybe it’ll be you! Don’t worry; by then, you’ll have a much more powerful videocamera on your cell phone.