The Cable News Channel that Doesn't Like News

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MSNBC has to be the only cable news channel that doesn't like when big news breaks.

The cable net finished the May book in last place in the ratings and they are blaming it on too many big news stories.

MSNBC doesn't have many real Journalists on staff and so when the big news hits, they don't have a clue as to how to cover it.

“We’re not the place for that,” said Phil Griffin, the channel’s president, in reference to covering breaking events as CNN does. “Our brand is not that.”

The brand, one MSNBC has cultivated with success, is defined by its tagline, “The Place for Politics,” and a skew toward left-wing, progressive political talk, the opposite of the conservative-based approach that has worked well for Fox News.

MSNBC began to commit itself to presenting a liberal spin on political coverage in the middle of the last decade, partly because it had not found success in previous models (like trying to be a news channel for younger viewers) and mostly because it had one host, Keith Olbermann, whose ratings were exploding based on his outspoken criticisms of the Bush administration and the conservative voices on Fox News.

MSNBC has ridden this formula to a consistent edge over CNN. It has topped that network about 80 percent of the time over the last three years, Mr. Griffin noted, by relying on a lineup of prime-time shows with strong hosts like Rachel Maddow. CNN has never made ideologically impassioned shows the basis of its appeal. Instead, it has thrived when its potent brand identity, the channel for breaking news, has come into play.

Mr. Griffin acknowledged that CNN, which has experienced ratings gains near 100 percent in the last two months, shines in periods of intense news interest. But, he said, this will pass.

“You do have to look at the long term,” Mr. Griffin said in May. “In the first quarter of this year, Fox News had its lowest quarter in a decade. A year ago CNN had its worst month ever. I tip my hat to what CNN has done this month, but let’s not be so myopic as to think the whole world has changed.”

But there is speculation that something different may be happening this time, that a combination of a more aggressive approach from CNN, dimming interest in political news in general, and a sense that MSNBC has less to offer in hard news coverage, may be eroding the advantage that the channel has enjoyed.

Mr. Griffin acknowledged that with Jeff Zucker, the former NBC chief executive and an experienced news producer from the “Today” show, now leading CNN, the competition is going to increase.

“We have to be aware of it,” he said. “We’ll figure out how to deal with their aggression in our own way.”

The way will be consistent with the political brand — and that could be a risk.

H/T NY Times