Archive for the ‘CNN’ category

Rick Sanchez Direct: CNN ADD!

8, September, 2008

Well, Rick Sanchez Direct was unloosed this afternoon onto an unsuspecting world. The CNN program appears to be the first head-on, full-frontal attempt by a mainstream media organization to harness the social web, live and on the air, to report the news.

Promoted on Sanchez’s own Twitter feed as a “Twitter show,” the production turned out to be more like a FriendFeed Gone Wild.

While Sanchez presented the news of the day, he harvested real-time viewer comments streaming in via Twitter, Facebook and MySpace [what, dude, you’re like 15?]. Raw news came in via cell phone images, mobile phone calls and user-generated video. There was even a multi-culti touch, with a flamboyantly Spanish speaking correspondent from CNN Espanol.

Sanchez is full of himself as a broadcaster and 2.0h geek–a brunette Anderson Cooper with ADD and thousands of online friends. His patter was peppered with references to the whiz-bangery by which he was presenting things: “…here’s something from Twitter coming in now, just seconds ago…this is an interactive news broadcast, it’s your show…and this, from Facebook…tell us what you think, we want to hear from you….”

Sanchez clearly relished his role as info-hero, manfully maintaining control of the real-time news battlefield while taking incoming data from all sides. At the end of the broadcast he thanked people for their “openness to Twitter, Facebook”–and indeed, one suspects, to human interaction itself. It was that kind of performance.

It’s easy to ridicule Rick Sanchez Direct as hyperspeed slapdash news-spatter. But truth told I found myself sort of liking it–the hour went fast, I got quick licks of the headlines-of-the-day, and heard the [alas, predictable] voices of my fellow Americans chattering about it all. There are worse news shows, and many that are more boring.

Which is not to say RSD is substantial or of great public value. But let’s consider the context before we bemoan the shameful intellectual decay of cable news–the domain of Wolf Blitzer, Sean Hannity and those blonde women on Fox–wrought by Twitter and Facebook.

Network TV news as it is widely practiced is highly mannered, with carefully staged standups, scripted stories, well-spoken talking heads and press conference snippets, all presented with assertive declamations by people who, as they say outside major media markets, clean up real good.

The thought that this somehow constitutes “news” in its pure form is ridiculous.

The thought that adding social media to the mix could wreck it is fatuous.

News is stuff that happens that someone finds interesting. There are infinite ways to present it. As the culture changes, so does the way it’s delivered.

My biggest complaint with RSD is that the need to generate a constant stream of real-time apoplexy to fill that Twitter screen, Sanchez & Co. will have to keep baiting the hook with red meat.

In today’s Episode One, the topics included “hard to watch” cell phone video of dead civilians in Afghanistan, a bunch of loony pastors who plan to take “all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary” their God-given right to endorse Republic–er, various candidates for public office, user videos of ginormous waves crushing the coastline of Cuba, the Government Bailout of Freddie and Fannie with Your Tax Dollars, etc.

And through Twitter and Facebook and god help us MySpace the people expressed their shock and disgust and dismay!

Sure, this is phony populism–“the issues that America really cares about,” overheated for the purposes of sensation. But welcome to our century. Later in the day, World News Tonight, Fox News and even NPR covered the very same stories, but without the public feedback.

As they say in the eye doctor’s office: Worse? Or better?

Is Rick Sanchez Direct a smart move for CNN? The 3 p.m. weekday time slot isn’t particularly valuable broadcast real estate. Why not turn it into a faddish, hyperkinetic, multi-screen, multi-media playground and see what happens?

Besides, think of the sponsorship opportunities.

For CNN sales reps, I have just two words: Red Bull.

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For more, see my previous entry previewing the program.

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Rick Sanchez Debuts Twitter on TV

8, September, 2008

Today at 3 p.m. EST, CNN’s promiscuous social media adopter Rick Sanchez debuts a TV show called Rick Sanchez Direct.

This may be of some cultural significance, in that that the program appears to be about/from/in/around [insert your favorite preposition] Twitter.

It’s hard to imagine the details of this first-of-its-kind broadcast. But in a Twitter message, Sanchez announced that it would indeed be “a Twitter show.”

Sanchez and other CNN anchors have been putting Twitter on camera as they report the news over the last week or so. Sanchez apparently had great sport with Twitter during Hurricane Gustav. I caught some of it, and it gave the news a sort incoherent, populist je ne sais quois I sort of admired. [See this Mashable entry for some details on CNN’s adventures in social media.]

Sanchez follows 4,607 people as of this writing. He has 8,766 followers. This appears to have generated some anxiety at Twitter’s San Francisco HQ, where the troops have been struggling mightily to keep the Fail Whale in its enclosure.

Sanchez’s producer Tweeted the following: **from Rick’s producer** working out a “follow limit” issue with Twitter. Stuck right now, unable to follow new folks.

Whether Sanchez will generate an entire show out of people’s messages to him, I have no idea. It’s hard to imagine how a Twitter feed from 4,607 users might behave live. The mind swims at the possibilities.

In his sign-off message Sunday night, just a little bit before I published this blog item, Sanchez Tweeted thusly:

heading out, c ya tomorrow THREE PM EAST, NOON for u california peeps, and everything in between. dvr, dvr, dvr,

Which is to say: Sanchez is asking us peeps to use our DVRs so we can time-shift a broadcast of his program that features Twitter. Talk about “appointment TV”!

As you can imagine, some see this as yet another sign that Da Man is appropriating social media in its evil plan to generate economic activity. You’ll find evidence of this on the blog Clips & Comment, in a post entitled  “Can Someone Shove CNN’s Twitter Screen Up Rick Sanchez’s A**?”

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Code Blue!

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Note: The following added at 6:09 p.m.: For a review of the debut, see the next post.

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So Simple. So Smart.

20, May, 2008

On Tuesday night, while results from the Kentucky and Oregon Democrat primaries were coming in, the New York Times had this wonderful tool above the fold on its home page.

NYTimes Delgate Slider

Meantime, the folks over at offer the considerably more complicated (if subtle) calculator shown below.

CNN delegate counter

Making complex material simple but accurate is one of the highest callings of journalism. Both sites attack this particular complexity well. But I give the nod to

CNN: Leading the pack in. . .newswriting?

22, August, 2007

I’m only sort of kidding.

Click here. Or here. Or, what the heck, here. [Note from author: CNN doesn’t have permalinks for its content, so these links keep going dead. If you wind up at a missing page, just click on any news story and you’ll see the feature I’m talking about.–cs 5/28/08]

Notice that each of these stories appearing on the CNN website is topped by a bulleted list titled Story Highlights. The following text rides in a box alongside the headline of a story, “Russia: We did not drop missile”:


  • Russia says it could not have dropped a missile in Georgia earlier this month
  • Georgia accuses Russia of “shameless Soviet diplomacy”
  • Experts from the U.S. among others have identified the missile as Russian
  • Incident reignites feuding between Russia and its pro-Western neighbor

The folks at CNN have figured out what editors of newspapers figured out by the 1920s or so but then (how?) forgot when they made the transition to the Web: Above-the-fold matters. People skim the news, scanning headlines, decks, picture/captions, and reading (sometimes) ledes and (rarely) the story to the jump and (very rarely indeed) all the way to the end.

But the biggest group of people skims headlines, decks, pictures and captions. This is the news consumer, both in print and online.

The most successful newspaper websites don’t seem to get this. Many use only the headlines that appear in the day’s paper, or those that come on top of wire service stories. The best of them handcraft blurbs for stories that get bigger display. A few get pictures and captions.

But click on the article itself and get this from USA Today.

This from the New York Times. [This link is behind a pay wall. Again, any Times news story will do.–cs]

This from the Washington Post.

In these examples you’ll find decks, some multimedia enhancements, links, and so on.

But none of them has what, arguably, would be the most valuable service to Web readers of the news: A succinct summary on top of the story, above the fold, that needs no clicking or scrolling to consume.

My deduction: CNN creates very little original news–and, as a broadcast culture, accepts intuitively how short a news consumer’s attention span is. (Recall the ribbon of text scrolling across the bottom of its newscasts.) It has no vanity associated with its original news reporting, no need to spool out the whole 43-inch wordroll in order to comfort the top print editors, who (still!) insist their marquee work in the paper be marquee work on the Web, repurposed with little disruption to the version that is trucked each morning to readers’ homes.

CNN’s news summaries are often not very good. The language is sometimes dull, the details are poorly selected, insights are heroically resisted. They read like the work of junior producers in a hurry.

But the summaries exist, high up, bulleted and readable. This fact alone gives a majority of Web news readers–skimmers and dippers–a better experience.

The only website I’m aware of that campaigns to package news stories with this kind of efficient skimbait is the give-’em-a-break-they’re-still-in-beta site Newser. Its stories are topped by 100-word blocks of text, written by newswriters, and more insightful than CNN’s. But they are presented as blocks of text. No white space. Small text. From a usability perspective, these better writeups score lower than CNN’s bullets. Compare the Newser link above with any of the CNN links at the start of this blog entry and you’ll see what I mean.

I’d say it’s ironic that a broadcast website understands how to present news to an electronic user better than newspaper publishers that pay for serious reporting and news analysis.

But it’s not.

If newspapers took a cue from CNN’s packaging, and topped their full reports with easily skimmable summaries, they’d have the best of both worlds: Important, original news that carries out the vital functions of the Fourth Estate–and reaches the maximum audience.

Obesity Map: Just What the Web Doc Ordered

30, July, 2007

Let’s start the week with an item from the Web Done Right files: 

Take a look at CNN’s Fit Nation “Obesity in America” map. The feature illustrates, via a timeline slider and interactive national map, how much each state’s percentage of obese people increased between 1985 and 2004. It’s a great example of how a simple, often neglected 1.0 technique–Flash–can be effective when used properly.

There’s an even more effective rendering of the geography of obesity over at Revolution Health. Mouse over any state to see its obesity rate during any of the years covered, 1990 through 2006. [Interest revealed: I used to work at Revolution.]

The point: plain old-fashioned Web technology can be a powerful centerpiece even when surrounded by the usual 2.0fferings: UGC, vanity videos, blogs, etc. The temptation these days is to favor the faddish over the effective. Both sites show this isn’t necessary.

[Oddly, the CNN map shows the states with the highest obesity rates in red and those with lower rates in blue. The results is a map showing blue and red states. I wonder if Wolf Blitzer known about this.]

YouTube/CNN: Video’s “Actually” Moment

23, July, 2007

This evening broadcasters and bloggers alike will proclaim the CNN/YouTube Democratic debate a breakthrough in engaging young voters,  as a way to re-democratize democracy, as proof that technology is transforming the way political campaigns are conducted, yadayadablahblahblah.

All fine. All good.

[Though it must be mentioned that this will hardly be a victory for disintermediated politics, or the death of MSM, what with CNN, middling spawn of the Time-Warner oligopoly, controlling the questions, promoting the event, and providing the medium by which most folks will view it.]

Let’s take a breath and look at other technology “moments.” 

Remember when fax machines came out, and we all reveled in the novelty of being able to fax our pickup orders to restaurants?

Remember the first telephone answering machines, and we realized we could actually produce our own “personal” outgoing messages?

And when e-mail happened, when we could actually send jokes to people at work and they’d get them immediately? 

With cell phones, we could actually walk down the street and talk on the phone!

Ditto nearly every technological innovation: desktop PCs, PDAs, online forums, blogs, social networks. . .each went through its “actually” moment. Then the technology matured, the novelty wore off and people figure out, more or less, what the thing is actually good for.  

Now just happens to be homemade video’s “actually” moment–we can actually make videos to ask questions of presidential candidates!  

This moment will pass too.

Let me be the first to predict: There will be no YouTube debate for the 2012 election. Making videos to ask candidates questions is an instant period piece, an expression of a moment in time. It will seem as quaint and foolish in four years as those insuffrable answering machine messages did by 1983.

I’m sure there will be something new for the 2012 election: Avatar candidacies? Crowdsourced campaign plans? Wiki platforms? Behaviorally targeted mobile advertising? Maglev whistle-stops with holographic candidate “appearances”? Who’s to say? No matter what, though, using video to question candidates will be so over, as they say on FaceBook.

Anyway, let’s enjoy tonight’s festivities, and try not to assign it more significance than it deserves.

And to keep yourself grounded, remember this:

As of 4 p.m. today, the “most discussed” video on YouTube is. . .a kid’s videotaping his dad viewing YouTube–and then catching him naked in his bedroom a few moments later.

Enjoy the debate.

CNN: Renovation Done for Advertisers

5, July, 2007

Fascinating story came across the newsline today, describing how CNN’s recent re-do, which I have written about previously, was aimed largely at pleasing advertisers.

Wrote Gavin O’Malley of Online Media Daily:

The redesign, which launched earlier this week, was planned first and foremost to please advertisers, [ SVP and GM David] Payne insisted, and less cluttered and cleaner experiences were at the top of agencies’ wish lists.

“Advertisers want their ads to pop, which means getting them above the fold in an uncluttered environment.”

I’m no prude. As someone who toiled in the fields of pulp and ink for over 20 years, I’m well-acquainted with the adage (adage!) that journalists are people who write on the back of ads. Without ad support–which is to say happy advertisers–there is no way to fund the expensive work that major media does.

Still, the plain admission that advertisers were the first consitituency of the renovation illustrates a key cultural difference between the commercial environments online and in print. It’s hard to imagine the GM of a newspaper saying its redesign was done first and foremost for advertisers. Inevitably the GM would intone, however disingenuously, that the rework was done to improve service to readers.

It makes you wonder: Do new media execs simply feel more free to tell the truth than their print counterparts?

CNNot a great use of video

1, July, 2007

You might think that CNN, given its position in the cable TV newscape, would have a good chance of getting video right in the 2.0 world.

But no: CNN’s renovated Web site–which on the whole is extremely good, one of the more successful mainstream do-overs of the last year–makes the same amateurish video blunders you see Webwide these days. Four-minute stemwinders on a school beating. Two minutes of muddy water slamming into a bridge abutment. Two minutes of heads a-talking. This morning’s weather, still available this evening!  

The 2.0 video vice is sticking a set of cliplinks–any clips will do–headlined “Watch our videos” above the fold.  [Three typical examples:,]

Saying “Watch our video” is sort of like saying “Read our words” or “Click our links.” Hell, why not come clean and just stick “View our pages, repeatedly” across the top?

The point is that video should be used when it’s the best tool to deliver what users are looking for–not because the boss said “YouTube is sucking traffic from everybody, we need a video strategy by close of business Monday.” Or not because (as I’m guessing was the case at “YouTube is sucking traffic from everybody, and we’ve got all this video that people seem to like okay on TV, so let’s stick it up on the Web and tell the suits in corporate that we’re amortizing production costs across multiple platforms.”

Anyhow, like all 2.0 spasms, the vid fad will fade when the numbers come up short. Webmakers will eventually figure out that video is just one of dozens of 2.0 technologies that can help accomplish some legit online mission. 

 And no, “View our pages, repeatedly,” doesn’t qualify as a legit online mission.