CNN mug and world paperweight

How to Zuck Up the News

By Thursday Review staff  | published Sunday, December 29, 2013 |

In the ongoing and never-ending business of melding entertainment into news—and vice versa—CNN’s new president and chief of programming, Jeff Zucker, who took over in late 2012, has promised to continue to replace “hard news” with a variety of non-traditional programs. Zucker, who introduced shows like Inside Man with Morgan Spurlock and Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain, has made it clear the he regards the traditional boundaries of “news” to be largely irrelevant.

Memos reprinted in several entertainment magazines have indicated Zucker’s intention to leave traditional news-gathering and news-deliver behind, augmenting it as often as possible with “shows” only loosely connected to hard news. Zucker, who came to CNN by way of his previous position as head of NBC-Universal (now owned by Comcast), recently told one industry writer that his goal for CNN in 2014 “is more shows and less newscasts.”

Many journalists (including some at CNN) have already complained loudly of a process which will continue to dumb things down to the point that actual “news” is gone altogether, replaced entirely with, for example, entertaining looks into Romanian recipes for Turkish coffee.

On the other hand, Spurlock’s shows can be viewed as at least gamely provocative and incisive in the tradition of Edward R. Murrow, however distantly-related, perhaps, on the DNA chart these programs fall. Long before his collaborations with CNN, Spurlock’s first independently-produced documentary, Supersize Me, was a morbidly-fascinating look into what happens when someone eats only McDonald’s fast food, three meals a day, for 30 days. Supersize Me was the harshest look yet by any documentarian at the health risks associated with fast food.

Still, Zucker’s desire to push hard news away from the top tier of news programming is just one step in a long process of systematic reduction in the value of real news, often shielded loosely behind the excuse that viewers and ratings drive these decisions. A cop-out, to be sure—but the safest path available when one is deliberately widening the gap between the viewership of “consumers” and the value of genuine information.