10 Radical Ideas To Reanimate The CNN Zombie & Reinvent TV News

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CNN just fired it’s CEO Chris Licht, who overhauled the network, fired a bunch of people, but failed to revive its rotting corpse. In 2018’s Trump Save The Media, I warned about corporate television’s temporary Trump Bump, then laid out 12 new rules for the future of media (1 & 2), and business strategies to save it. Those held up way better than CNN. So here’s how I’d approach re-imagining the Corporate News Network and dying TV news model.

Let’s face it, network news is dead, especially:

  • in its current format
  • with the current talent pool
  • among young people
  • at current levels of corporate media distrust

Sure, The Trump Circus is coming to town and the Presidential campaign might give TV news one last Zombie Bump, but at best, it’s a stay of execution. No stale insider, clinging to big offices and fumes of network prestige, can save a model whose best shows are trounced by podcasts of mid-level comedians.

So what now?

The first step is acceptance. News must accept its death and use its waning brand and financial capital to make offers that can’t be refused to podcasters, podcast networks, YouTubers, and other talent who’ve developed large, trusted audiences. Then give them time and resources to build something new.

This means hiring an unconventional leader with a flair for entertainment, instinct for what audiences want, vision, and integrity. This won’t come from a stale insider, but from someone ready to bring these qualities to the news category — and think differently. Could be someone like Tom Segura, a comedian with a sharp business mind, who’s built a podcasting monolith at YMH Studios, who regularly performs to massive international audiences in both English and Spanish. Or, Mr. Beast who’s a YouTube prodigy, with an encyclopedic understanding of media, platforms, and audiences.

To have any chance of innovating, here are 10 principles CNN should consider embracing:

1) Accept platform ubiquity and agnosticism. Be everywhere people stream — podcasts, YouTube, Rumble, Twitter, Substack, Patreon, etc.

2) Find ways to monetize everywhere you are through sponsorships, events, or whatever is native to those platforms.

3) Be transparent about your sponsorships, potential conflicts of interest, and post your contract terms publicly. Maybe even automate ad buys, based on journalistic principles. Make your ad business work like open source code on GitHub – editable and reviewable by anyone. Wikipedia is another model to consider (and build on). Done right, this could be a trust game-changer.

4) Surrender the impulse for corporate content policing, backslapping deals, status games, and political agendas. One way to do that is replace the current opaque system of truth vs. lies with a community fact check system, like Twitter. And address all criticisms on air. But not defensively. Invite your critics on for real dialogue.

5) Make everything interactive. Let fans to nominate guests, choose which ones they want to return, submit questions, and participate in live events where they ask questions the hosts might not. Audiences are smarter and more creative than ever — use it to your advantage.

6) Real conversations should take however long they take. Time boxes and segment lengths are relics of another time and place. Fine for clips, but not for complex issues in a world people are struggling to understand. Consider this interview on Fox News with RFK Jr. The format is unwatchable. The host keeps interrupting and wedging in accusations and assertions before unrelated questions. This is not real conversation. This is why podcasts work and cable news networks are dying. Let people speak and let it take as long as it takes, without hammering your agenda. These networks are earning their obsolescence.

7) End access journalism. Be so good that you don’t have to lube up politicians with softball questions. You’ll have an audience so big and reputation so trusted, they’ll beg to come on and get grilled.

8) Cross-pollinate all the shows. Reward camaraderie with a compensation structure that incentivizes everyone to root for their peers, not their downfall. Same way Joe Rogan changed the L.A. comedy scene from cutthroat and adversarial to one of cross-pollinating guests and ideas across podcasts and social media. Suddenly, comics realized they could have collegial, complementary relationships that grow the comedy pie, instead of fighting for slices of a static one.

9) Embrace meme culture. This is the new world order. Sure, serious news segments shouldn’t be made into a joke, but news commentary? Especially, on issues people can’t directly affect? Don’t be afraid to laugh. Look at how well Gutfeld is doing with that approach. He gets higher ratings than every traditional late night show (another dead format).

10) Last, but not least, don’t forget the news! The only bias news should have is toward truth, not manufacturing outcomes for advertiser or government interests. Like our foreign interventions, propaganda and manipulation, rarely produce desired outcomes. The modern way to do this is to crowdsource journalism, at least the raw initial part. Ask Julian Assange. Hire Julian Assange.

With more inside knowledge of CNN’s inner workings, people, and finances, I might adjust this list. But directionally, it approximates the level of innovation needed to avoid dying penniless on Andersen Cooper’s couch.

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Provocative predictions & prescriptions on where innovation, economics & culture will take us. Fearless. Funny.