There are a number of ways to get ahead in the cable news world. One way is partisan talk about the news, as exemplified by shows on MSNBC and Fox News. Another way is personality-based — think Bill O’Reilly, Joe Scarborough and Rachel Maddow.
CNN on Thursday seemed to try another way: captivating, nonstop cruise ship coverage.
The cable news channel threw everything it had at the odyssey of the Carnival Cruise Line ship Triumph, which was being towed toward port in Mobile, Ala., after four days stranded at sea. CNN had a helicopter circling the cruise ship, a reporter at sea on a boat nearby, and two more reporters on land.
Naturally, it promoted its coverage as coming from “air, land and sea.” “Before you scorn: imagine being on board,” the executive producer of CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight,” Jonathan Wald, wrote on Twitter.
The coverage had all the hallmarks of Jeff Zucker, the former “Today” show producer and NBC chief executive who took over CNN Worldwide last month. Mr. Zucker has been trying to take advantage of CNN’s news resources as he attempts to revitalize the low-rated channel. The cruise ship story was a no-brainer to him: from a producer’s standpoint, it has high stakes, human drama and a logical beginning, middle and end. The ship is expected to finally reach port Thursday night.
On Thursday morning, CNN fired off a press release about the channel’s coverage plans and said one of its prime time anchors, Erin Burnett, was on the way to Mobile so she could televise the family reunions. It even said its channel seen outside the United States, CNN International, would simulcast the live coverage.
Television news producers are prone to hyping and over-covering stories, of course. That much isn’t new. But what CNN did with the cruise ship stood out because Fox and MSNBC mostly stuck with their usual stories about politics, business, crime and culture. MSNBC barely even mentioned the cruise ship in its newscasts on Thursday.
Partly that’s because the stranded ship hasn’t been a particularly visual story — but CNN changed that by chartering a helicopter and a boat for the day. Around noon, the channel caught the attention of media reporters and a few television competitors when it carried aerial pictures of the cruise ship accompanied by the words “CNN Live Exclusive.” The anchor Ashleigh Banfield announced that viewers were seeing “the first image of this ship as it approaches shore,” meaning the first live pictures — photographs had been available for days.
CNN also set up a camera with a long zoom lens on land so it could show the cruise ship 30 miles out at sea.
Ms. Banfield at one point interviewed a 12-year-old girl, Rebecca Poret, who was on the ship, and the girl’s mother, Mary, who was watching CNN at home. As mother and daughter talked, CNN’s on-screen graphic didn’t hesitate to play up the emotions of the moment.
12-YR-OLD TO MOM: “I’M COLD, BUT I’M GOOD”
With a little prodding from Ms. Banfield, Rebecca came out to a balcony on the ship so that the helicopter camera could zoom in on her. “They’re waving to us now!” Ms. Banfield exclaimed, adding, “You must be beyond elated to be able to see your daughter.”
“I’m very excited,” Ms. Poret said. The CNN graphic read:
CNN SHOWS MOM STRANDED GIRL
First time mother has seen daughter in a week
All the camera angles and interviews made the coverage more captivating and, some would say, entertaining, turning the news into something that looked and felt a bit like a reality show.
CNN said it would stay with the story all day. Even when the channel changed topic in the 1 p.m. hour, it put a live shot of the cruise ship in a small box in the corner of the screen.
By Brian Stelter, Media Decoder (New York Times)
Re-posted on CruiseCrazies.com - Cruise News, Articles, Forums, Packing List, Ship Tracker, and more