TONY POTTS: Fox News Is Brilliant And So Is CNN, Just At Different Things. However, they also $#@!

So here’s what I mean. Looking just at what happened these past two weeks —SuperStorm Sandy and the Presidential Election — we got an excellent look at what FOX News Channel and CNN can and can’t do.

CNN is by far the best when a calamity strikes. It’s in their DNA. They are excellent across the board. They not only bring you what is happening in a far-reaching, but pin-point immediacy, but they are a step or two ahead of the competition in advancing the story and ‘seeing-around-corners’ during a crisis. A ton of that has to do with veteran producers and fantastic, experienced talent in the field. To put it simply, they’ve been there, done that in an excellent way for years.

On the flip side, FNC is like local news when a huge event happens. Actually, there are some local news operations out there which are better. It’s just not what FOX News does or does best. I do have to give props to Shepard Smith. He can handle just about anything live –including a hurricane/nor’easter — and advance the story as it unfolds to where it is headed. But he’s really the only one who is solid in that type of calamity. And don’t even mentioned FNC’s Election Night coverage. Debacle is being kind. I’ve been in the business for more than 20-years and covered a number of major breaking news events –the crash of TWA 800 over Long Island, for instance –before I went to the darkside of journalism, aka entertainment news. So, I sat with a keen eye watching FNC during Superstorm Sandy and knew exactly where they were failing and where their coverage should have be going. FOX has a long way to go in that area. And, quite frankly, I don’t know if they will ever match CNN. CNN is a powerhouse.

However, CNN may never match FNC in being a powerhouse every other day of the year when ‘normal’ news rules the day. Why? Because FNC is brilliant knowing exactly who they are. Look, I’m not a fan of FNC as a whole, but I am a HUGE fan of FNC ‘the branding machine.’ FNC makes no apologies. Day in and day out they make no bones about their right-leaning agenda. And they do it very, very well. There was a report back in 2006 by The Project on Excellence in Journalism. It showed that 68% of FNC stories contained personal opinions. That same report found that 27% of MSNBC’s stories contained personal opinions while CNN came in at 4%. In reading the report further, it states via a ‘content analysis’ that “Fox was measurably more one-sided than the other networks.” It also found that Fox journalists were more opinionated on the air. Of course, that’s their brand. THAT is their POINT-OF-DIFFERENCE.

After years of swimming in a pool of what-the-hell-are-we alongside CNN, MSNBC and the suits figured out their brand and, subsequently and not coincidentally, increased their ratings. CNN hasn’t figured out it’s brand. They seriously need a branding expert OUTSIDE of the CNN sandbox to come in with a fresh perspective. By the way, CNN has an amazing team of producers and talent who are incredible at huge breaking news stories. The network now needs the new hybrid producers and hybrid talent for the other 364 normal news days of the year. From the talent side, which I obviously know, CNN needs five-tool players. Those who don’t just ‘front’ a show, but can create other content for the network while branding it –all within the social zeitgeist of the day with a wink and a nod to the importance of the emerging second screen experience. It is an amazing and thrilling time to be talent, to be in this business.

It would be thrilling to see CNN come back and give MSNBC and FNC a run for their money, instead of getting smoked in the ratings on a daily basis.
Although Washington and Colorado will probably vote for CNN getting smoked.

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