CNN in the A.M.—Get Serious


Here’s a novel suggestion for CNN as it prepares another remake of its American Morning telecast. This time, why not really make it a newscast?

Seriously, we mean. American Morning with current anchors Soledad O’Brien and Miles O’Brien already claims that it presents more news than any other morning show. But that’s not much of a claim, given the competition, from Today to Good Morning America to Fox and Friends are more infotainment than news.

Which is fine. But if CNN President Jon Klein wants to make an impact as he prepares to insert new anchors John Roberts and Kieran Chetryn starting April 16, why not make the show all about substance?

As Klein noted himself last week, the presidential race is already in full swing, the war in Iraq is as much of a mess as ever, and the political combat between the White House and Capitol Hill is getting really nasty. Why not give American viewers a morning newscast that is an in-depth look at the world—with wise political reporting, commentary and business news. How about medical reporting that goes beyond the latest fad diet?

CNN has a chance to zig while everybody else in the morning continues to zag, busily scheduling their outdoor concerts and fashion shows. (Last Thursday morning in the 8 o’clock hour, Today took a penetrating look at spring and summer casual wear for women who don’t have perfect bodies. This just in: Yellow is going to be a big color this year.)

Certainly, in John Roberts, at least, Klein has a reporter with credentials who covered the White House for CBS and was, some thought, in line to succeed Dan Rather. He’s a guy Klein called a “kick-ass journalist.” That’s the very same phrase Klein uses to describe Anderson Cooper, who somehow seems to be the only talent CNN chooses to spend effort promoting. If CNN spread its promotional dollars to American Morning as well, some viewers might actually learn of its existence.

A problem with cable news generally these days is that each of the news networks have become centered on personalities, rather than using the one intrinsic advantage they possess: sufficient time to tell important stories well. But Klein could do that with American Morning, making a rather ordinary, lifeless show part of the required agenda for news junkies.

Indeed, if CNN is serious about being serious, why not eschew the cookie-cutter morning news style and move the program to a storefront studio in Washington? That would make the show a regular stop for Washington powerbrokers the way Sunday talk shows are now. It also would virtually guarantee an absence of self-promoting singers, actors and celebrity chefs who seldom visit the nation’s capital.

In the process, CNN could use the morning news to stake claim as the nation’s hard-news cable news channel. Nobody else seems interesting in picking up that worthwhile banner. Klein and American Morning should seize the moment.