What Really Went Wrong For MSNBC, And How To Really Fix It

To paraphrase a famous quote: The reports of MSNBC’s demise are greatly exaggerated.  

We’ve seen this before, but in reverse.  Last fall, MSNBC was beating Fox News in certain demographics.  Ratings go up and down and with that thought, there’s no doubt in my mind that MSNBC is here to stay…period.

Mediaite

There has been a lot of virtual ink devoted to the two months of dismal ratings that MSNBC has just endured, some of it sincere, some of it concern-trolling, and much of it tinged with Schadenfreude. There has even been talk that the network might never recover, at least not unless it abandons its Lean Forward identity. In order to figure out how to fix MSNBC’s problems, you have to understand what went wrong in the first place, and you have to actually want the network to thrive.

Before I even start, and more importantly, before any of you even start, let me set the record straight: I hate everything about TV ratings. I hate writing about them, reading about them, and I especially hate getting PR pitches about them. ratings are a terrible way to measure quality, especially in news programming, there are a million ways to slice and dice them, and just looking at them gives me a headache. This is not an invitation for you to email me about how your show is #1 with carpentry aficionados age 63-97. My concern for ratings is confined to their effect on whether I can continue watching programming that I enjoy.

That’s why I took notice when Salon‘s Alex Pareene, in an otherwise excellent column, suggested that MSNBC’s bad stretch has put the network’s progressive-leaning orbit into fatal decay. Are the ratings really that bad?

Well, they are pretty bad, from what I can see, and as Pareene notes, lots of people are taking this opportunity to beat up on All In host Chris Hayes. The launch of the former Up star’s 8 pm show just happened to coincide with an extended series of news cycles that played to rivals CNN and Fox News’ strengths, along with the climax of the HLN-owned-and-operated Jodi Arias trial. Here’s how Pareene describes it:

Meanwhile, CNN’s been given gift after gift by whichever minor demons are responsible for the creation of cable news stories. The channel’s new Zucker-approved softer focus and lack of dignity allowed it to capitalize on Jodi Arias nearly as much as its trashy sister station HLN did. The Boston bombings were a perfect CNN story, even if CNN botched the hell out of its coverage. The Dzhokhar Tsarnaev manhunt was precisely the sort of story that makes people go through their channel guides trying to remember which one CNN is. And then there was the West, Texas, explosion. CNN capitalized on all of this because CNN’s brand is “breaking news.” Fox capitalized because there are simply a whole bunch of people out there whose TVs are tuned to Fox basically all the time. MSNBC’s brand is “people either talking calmly or yelling at you, or each other, about politics.” These weren’t stories that made people think, “What does Chris Matthews have to say?” (Another problem: During huge stories, like the Boston bombing and subsequent manhunt, MSNBC frequently finds itself in the odd position of competing with its own sister network, when NBC News takes over the broadcast network.)

Ironically, MSNBC was alone among its cable news competitors in getting the Boston manhunt story right, a good deed for which they appear to be being punished. Fox News, meanwhile, has been carb-loading like Jabba the Hutt with ringworm on the three-headed Scandalabra™, and bloating its endlessly voracious audience in the process.

Continue here…

4 comments

  1. All politics all the time is unavoidable in an intense election cycle. Since the November ballot I admit to reviving my non-political life and that does not include the nightly fill of MSNBC. When issues arise I tune in. Otherwise the 2014 fight is looming and I hope the gang is still there to get me pumped!

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