Add another Brit to the list of those who could be the next big boss at CNN. A week after Semafor’s Ben Smith reported that Mark Thompson, the former chief executive at both The New York Times and the BBC, was being considered to take over CNN, Semafor’s Max Tani is reporting that we can add another name to the list of possibilities. Tani writes that CNN’s parent company, Warner Bros.
Discovery, also has talked to James Harding, who oversaw BBC News from 2013 to 2017. He then founded the British digital media outlet Tortoise. Tani writes, “The news of an imminent appointment has come as a surprise inside CNN, where many staffers expected the current, three-person interim leadership to last until the 2024 U.S.
election.” Puck’s Dylan Byers reported late last week that Warner Bros. Discover CEO David Zaslav has made up his mind and is trying to convince Thompson to take the job. Still, there is no definitive timetable for finding a permanent replacement for Chris Licht, who was fired in June after just a year in the job. Tani noted, “The challenges that the next leader of CNN will inherit have been in full view over the past several weeks as the streaming television business convulsed and the network lost market share to MSNBC amid the rolling indictments of former President Donald Trump.
While CNN previously competed with MSNBC on big Trump-related breaking news days, the liberal network has begun to pull away significantly on these days: MSNBC was number one the night of Trump’s arrest in Georgia, while Rachel Maddow’s Hillary Clinton interview on the night of Trump’s indictment in Georgia drew nearly 4 million viewers.
By contrast, CNN has barely broken one million viewers in certain primetime hours, a far cry from the network’s primetime ratings during the first years of the Trump administration.” While MSNBC’s programming has grown stronger and stronger, and its coverage of late has been excellent, CNN has stepped up its game in recent weeks, too. Kaitlan Collins has been a bright spot in prime time, showing that the valuable 9 p.m.
Eastern slot is not too big for her. Recent coverage of the Trump indictments and the Republican presidential debate was thorough, fair and interesting — particularly when Anderson Cooper was running things. And whenever there was breaking news — such as the recent plane crash that killed Russian Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner private military company — CNN remains a go-to source.
The network has always been at its best during major breaking news stories, especially international stories. That hasn’t changed even as CNN has stumbled in the ratings. The journalism remains strong. This isn’t to say CNN doesn’t have issues. It does. The ratings prove that. But it also isn’t starting from scratch either.
There’s a lot to build on in the post-Licht era and that’s what the new leader will be walking into, too. Close encounters of the awful kind Two weeks ago, The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio published a high school football story that started like this: The Westerville North Warriors defeated the Westerville Central Warhawks 21-12 in an Ohio high school football game on Friday.
Westerville North edged Westerville Central 21-12 in a close encounter of the athletic kind at Westerville North High on Aug. 18 in Ohio football action. OK, that’s awful. “Close encounter of the athletic kind?” Seriously? Who would write such a thing? Actually, a “who” didn’t write it.
A “what” did. This was an artificial intelligence-generated game story. The bottom of the story said, “You’re reading a news brief powered by ScoreStream, the world leader in fan-driven sports results and conversation.” This was not a surprise. Whenever there are discussions about newspapers using AI, one of the potential examples is using it for high school sports.
There are so many games and too few writers, so why not feed in some stats and let AI write the story? Problem is, you get stories like the one above. And it wasn’t the only one. New York Times reporter Maggie Astor did a Google search with “close encounters of the athletic kind” and found a slew of different game stories using that bad cliche to describe a close game.
The Big Lead’s Kyle Koster found 18 such game stories just from the Dispatch. A Gannett spokesperson told Koster, “In addition to adding hundreds of reporting jobs across the country, we are experimenting with automation and AI to build tools for our journalists and add content for our readers.
We are continually evaluating vendors as we refine processes to ensure all the news and information we provide meets the highest journalistic standards.” This did not reach the highest journalistic standards, and Gannett agreed. It put out an internal memo last week that said, “We have put on hold our experiment automating local high school sports stories.
The experiment lasted roughly two weeks but the quality and accuracy of this content from the partner company did not meet our journalistic standards. So, we are tapping the brakes as we discuss our processes, evaluate vendors and consider alternatives to deliver high school sports content that is important to our readers, viewers and listeners.” The note continued, “Automation and AI have an important role to play in supporting journalism and the work we do.
Automation can be a tool that informs our reporting and enables our reporters to get out into the community and dig. It can identify trends in data. It can support supplemental materials of benefit to readers. But it should not pretend to be human, and we will not use it to replace real reporting by reporters.
We learned in this experiment. Now it is time to pivot.” Axios Columbus’ Tyler Buchanan also wrote about this. There is still a contentious debate about how publishers should use AI. Obviously, journalists will be (and should be) upset if AI is being used to replace human beings to cover events.
As someone who started his career covering high school football, I can tell you that invaluable lessons learned under the Friday night lights laid the foundation for covering events such as the Olympics and Stanley Cup finals and college football national championships in the years after that. Gannett does at least get credit for backpedaling once it saw its AI experiment was not working in this situation.
Then again, it tried it in the first place and has said it’s merely putting its experiment on “hold.” It didn’t say it was ending it for good. Hunkering down Those who have been to Poynter’s headquarters in St. Petersburg, Florida, know how beautiful it is here. As I’m typing these very words on Monday afternoon, I’m looking out the giant windows of our office onto Tampa Bay, which is right across the street.
It’s pleasant and calm as I write, but with Hurricane Idalia lurking in the Gulf of Mexico, the weather will soon deteriorate, maybe even as you’re reading this on Tuesday. Hopefully, the storm will move in and out quickly without too much destruction. And, of course, here’s hoping The Poynter Report is in your inbox as usual on Wednesday morning.
If it’s not, or a little late, it might be because we’re drying out a bit. Oh, one more item of interest. The Poynter-owned Tampa Bay Times has been putting this editor’s note on its storm stories: Editor’s Note: As a public service, the Tampa Bay Times is making its storm coverage free to readers as long as the region is threatened.
To help us continue keeping you informed, please consider supporting us with a subscription or donating to our journalism fund. Actually, I have one more item that’s weather-related. Pretty cool interactive visual guide from The Washington Post’s N. Kirkpatrick, Aaron Steckelberg and Leslie Shapiro: “How to prepare your family, home and pets for a hurricane.” Media tidbits Hot type More resources for journalists Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter.
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