The Year in News 2010
CNN as the Cable Outlier
CNN is often described as the odd man out in the cable news wars. Unlike Fox and MSNBC—whose prime-time programming is dominated by ideological hosts who tilt right and left respectively—its prime-time programming does not feature a dominant ideology. Its evening lineup in 2010 was built around the valedictory season of celebrity interviewer Larry King and the on-scene reporting style of Anderson Cooper.
But a study of 2010 cable coverage reveals another major area in which CNN differentiates itself from its rivals. It has a dramatically different news agenda in terms of what it covers.
Take the two major domestic political stories. CNN devoted notably less of its time to these than its rivals. It spent 11% of the airtime studied on the midterm elections, substantially less than Fox (16%) and MSNBC (19%). The same pattern was true with the heated debate over health care, which accounted for only 4% of the CNN newshole, compared with 7% on Fox and 8% on MSNBC.
Yet CNN leaned far more heavily toward disaster stories that demanded on-scene field reporting. CNN devoted more than twice as much airtime to the devastating Haiti earthquake (5% for the year overall and 45% during the month after the quake) than did MSNBC and Fox (2% each for the year and 17% each for the first month). CNN’s coverage of the BP oil spill saga (12% for the year) also outstripped MSNBC’s (10%) and doubled Fox’s (6%).
A deeper look at the oil spill story reveals another distinction. More than half of CNN’s spill coverage (57%) focused on the breaking news aspects of the story—efforts at containment and cleanup and the impact of the disaster. And only about one-third (35%) was devoted to roles and culpability of both the federal government and BP.
Conversely both Fox (36%) and MSNBC (39%) filled only about one-third of their newshole with cleanup and containment coverage. But they devoted about one half (Fox 54% and MSNBC 53%) to the corporate and government roles and culpability storylines, which featured more of a Beltway component.
Broadly speaking, the coverage patterns seem to affirm CNN’s niche as more oriented toward big breaking news events with Fox and MSNBC more attuned to the political battlegrounds.
The Year in News 2010