CNN, Physical Retailers Have Lots in Common

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- There was quite the hubbub Tuesday when Jeff Zucker, president of Time Warner's (TWX) CNN made these comments (excerpt courtesy our friends and lovers at MediaBistro's "TVNewser"):

(Zucker) wants more of "an attitude and a take": "We're all regurgitating the same information. I want people to say, "You know what? That was interesting. I hadn't thought of that," Zucker said. "The goal for the next six months, is that we need more shows and less newscasts."

Couldn't agree more with that assessment.

Reporting the news is and will remain a losing proposition. If you're merely regurgitating it, you're really screwed.

For all intents and purposes, what Zucker wants at CNN is personality-driven media. The stuff Fox News and CNBC and TheStreet's Jim Cramer are made of. That doesn't mean CNN needs to be just like Fox News, Cramer or anybody else equally-as-entertaining and informative (great personalities tend to be distinct); it just needs to inject personality not only into its lineup, but its culture.

And herein lies the problem.

Radical change will grab the old people who sit around and watch CNN all day from their recliners and throw them headfirst into their china cabinets. They'll light up CNN's switchboards with complaints. Media critics will be all over Zucker for sacrificing CNN's journalistic integrity. More critics will follow with lines like "as if they had any anyway." And the pressure will be on. Because it will be difficult for a culture that's not personality-driven to handle the heat generated by personality-driven media.

I saw it happen a million times when I worked in radio. Back when the medium was still semi-relevant.

A program director knew he had to take out the oldies format or talk/news lineup that appealed to 65-year olds (radio, and I presume, TV people connote the 65+ demo with pending death). So he or she would replace oldies with alternative rock. Or blow out talk show hosts who had become market legends in favor of louder, more brash and opinionated personalities. And the backlash would be relentless.

The stations where management had backbone, vision and a clue weathered the storm. They realized this criticism came from very specific sectors of the audience. They knew they were essentially recycling from one flavor of audience to another. It's a process. And, as difficult as it can be to get through, the adverse reactions from a very vocal and persistent minority is evidence that you're finally implementing real and meaningful change.

That's what CNN will be up against if it makes the types of drastic moves Zucker, quite explicitly, says it needs to make.

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