On March 17 comedian/journalist Andy Borowitz wrote an article in The New Yorker headlined “CNN apologizes for briefly airing non-flight 370 story”.
While funny, it underscores a problem with 24/7 journalism – trying to find enough new things to say about a story, keep the story going, yet avoid falling into repetition and, eventually, boredom.
We have spent the past 10 days seeing the same array of experts on different CNN programs day and night hashing and rehashing different hypotheses of something about which no one knows anything. There are no real facts that we have been able to ascertain from the constant speculation. The plane could be here or there, up or down, to the left or right of its expected path. There are flight simulators, Malaysian opposition leaders under arrest, terrorists of every ilk, and false passports at play.
However there seem to be no new real facts.
In crises such as this, there is always intense pressure to come to a resolution of the situation. The families are hurting, and public sympathy and interest are high.
However, flogging a non-existent horse leaves a lot to be desired – especially for a news agency with the reputation and reach of CNN.
I have always advised spokespersons to avoid speculation about crisis incidents, since this is a mug’s game. There is nothing to be gained, and much credibility to be lost, either in the short and the long terms, or both. As well, I have always cautioned to let a story breathe, and avoid speculating 24/7 for days on end.
CNN’s decision to go into all kinds of details that might or might not be relevant someday to what really happened may be good for ratings in the short term (indeed, ratings have risen since the crisis began), but how will it affect its longer-term credibility as a news rather than speculation channel? Does its core public want straight news and opinion on a variety of important global issues daily, or does it want to hear talking heads speak about something about which they have no hard information ad nauseum?
Time will tell where the plane is, and I hope that that time is short for the sake of the passengers, if they are alive, and their loved ones, who crave facts and not endless speculation.
Time will also tell if this is the right strategy for CNN.
Eduardo del Buey
Crosshairs Communications Ltd.