What’s wrong with CNN? Ask these women

cnn-logoThe two women sat at the end of a long hallway complaining about sitting at the end of a long hallway.

“I can’t hear them when they call us,” the one in a cable-knit sweater said to the other. “I don’t know why the waiting room has to be so long, anyway.”

“And, good lord, do they ever keep the AC turned up way too high!” said the woman with a slate-colored shawl draped over her bare shoulders. “You want to sit there in the draft under the vents, fine by me. I’m staying here.”

“No,” the first woman muttered. “This is better, I agree.”

To their left stretched rows of sling chairs, arm to arm like soldiers awaiting inspection. Down the white, sun-drenched hall, five other people waited with their faces tilted toward their smartphones. Six or seven chairs between each silent visitor assured privacy. The guests stirred only when a nurse in periwinkle medical scrubs and carrying a clipboard emerged from the far end of the hall to announce a name three times. Two people looked up. She left before anyone responded.

The second woman kept adjusting her shawl. While doing this, she discovered a second complaint.

“But whoever heard of a waiting room without a TV?” she said toward a point on the wall where she presumed one should be. “This one could have two or three.”

“Mmm,” her friend replied. “CNN or something.”

“Uh, gawd, no.” The woman in the shawl crimped her nose as if she had tasted sour milk. “I’ve tried, but I can’t watch CNN anymore.”

“Why? What is it?”

“Oh, you know, I’ll watch for like five, ten minutes, but it’s just so darn depressing.”

“… Mmm, yes, I know what you mean.”

The sweater woman picked at her sweater. The shawl woman removed and replaced her shawl.

“Price Is Right!” the sweater woman announced.

“Or Today. Or Kelly. Or whatever, yes. Just something not so, oh you know, not so depressing …”

“… But with Bob Barker instead, you know, ‘cause he was much better, much better. ‘Price’ was better then, I think.”

“Yes, it was. Or Ellen. I really like Ellen.”

“Yes, yes …”

“… But if CNN’s on somewhere, you know, I’ll watch that. I’ll watch the crawl, anyway. For a little while …”

“… If it’s on, it’s on.”

“Yes.”

The clipboard woman re-emerged and announced another name, half of which disappeared beneath a whoosh of air as the cooling system restarted. She left without looking up from the board.

“Did you hear that?” the sweater woman asked.

“Nope. Wasn’t us. They’ll come down here and get us if they really want us.”

More picking at the sweater. More sliding and adjusting of the shawl.

“Now, if I’m at the airport, I’ll watch the CNN they have on the TVs there.”

“Yes, me too. But that’s all they have on there.”

“That or The Weather Channel …”

“… Uh huh …”

“… But it’s all travel stories on CNN, places you should go or see. I saw one on France and the places you should go for good wine. Now, that was a good story.”

“Yes. I like those.”

“The rest is all so depressing. Bad news after bad news.”

“It’s all bad news.”

“I’m telling you.”

A second nurse in identical scrubs came around a corner by the women. She whispered to them, they acknowledged the same way in the affirmative, then they resumed staring at the spot where they believed a TV should be on the wall.

“But, you know, news is news. It’s all bad anyway. They wouldn’t say anything if it wasn’t.”

“News is news. Maybe. I’m not sure if it’s all news …”

“… Mmm …”

“… I mean, how can all those things be going on at the same time, all those awful things? I just get sick and tired of it.”

“Well, it’s CNN. They’ve been around forever. It’s what they do, they find the news. You remember the way CNN was? Everybody watched it. You just kind of had it on at home.”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“Remember John Lennon? That’s where I heard about John Lennon. And Princess Di?”

“Yeah, Princess Di. I do remember that. So sad, so sad. But now you hear stuff like that everywhere all the time – Marnie telling me things she sees on Facebook before you ever see them on TV, on CNN …”

“… Yes, yes. Everywhere. Everywhere …”

“… And I can’t keep up, you know. It’s just too much.”

“Uh huh. Un huh.”

“But, you know, if it’s on I’ll watch. If there’s, like, nothing else.”

“Yes, mmm. Yes. Me, too.”

The second nurse returned to bend and whisper to the women who rose and reached to collect their handbags. The shawl slipped off the second woman’s shoulders and into the open mouth of her bag, then the women followed the nurse around the corner.

As the sweater woman went out of view, I heard her ask:

“Excuse me, but is there a reason you don’t have a TV in this place?”

You won’t believe what this journalist did using clickbait

Clickbait IconSee? I knew you’d click on the headline. Clickbait heads are useful that way.

Sure, clickbait promises more than it delivers. But in an age when mouse clicks can bring profit, clickbait heads are effective hooks for websites to attract business.

Clickbait is deceptive, misleading, and irresistible. That’s why headlines such as “Tricks Car Insurance Agents Don’t Want You to Know,” and “How iPads Are Selling for Under $40,” attract readers who should know better. These headlines promise content that reveals secrets, validates rumors, solves mysteries — and who doesn’t love that?

Well, journalists, for one. They insist clickbait content devalues news sites and demeans the journalism profession. A Google search with just “clickbait” and “journalism” in the search field turns up pages and pages of claims that the former is ruining the latter.

To some degree, this is true. Mislead any audience and you risk losing it.

What many journalists fail to remember however is that clickbait has been around much longer than the Internet — and they were the ones writing it.

Visit any library or newspaper database and scan the print headlines from 10, 20, 30 years ago. Headline writing was an art, a craft. News editors had limited space and time to explain a story no matter how complex, and it was a struggle almost every time. (Go ahead: Try explaining tax increment financing in six words or fewer, without using “tax,” or “increment,” or “financing.)

The goal was to make a big impression with small words.

That goal remains much the same online, but the audience is larger and there are many more news providers fighting for attention and survival. That’s why such sites as CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and my former employer, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch — which is where I found the car insurance and iPad headlines mentioned above — resort to clickbait despite the criticism it brings.

Yes, clickbait is a necessary evil of doing business online. But if journalists believe clickbait is ruining their reputations, then journalists must take greater responsibility for solving a problem they helped create.

(A version of this post appears at KolbeCo.net.)

Open Reporter requires you to have an open mind

Who can say that Honey Boo Boo inspired them to pursue journalism?

Misha Vinokur can.

Vinokur, a self-described innovator in Washington, D.C., says he was watching CNN when a scroll across the bottom of the screen announced in breaking-news fashion the half-pint reality TV star’s favorite energy drink.

Open Reporter logo“It really caught me by surprise and made me think, ‘Is this really news?’” he said. “So, I spoke to a few people and realized there’s some innovation going on in the news industry, and that maybe this is the optimum time to take advantage of that.”

He also realized there are others like himself who think better of journalism’s ability to inform, and so he launched Open Reporter, a social site with a business component.

Open Reporter, just three months old and still in beta, provides a space for journalists to “connect with others and find opportunities,” Vinokur said. Half the site serves as a social watering hole for sharing journalistic ideas and connections.

The other half is intended to host entrepreneurialism and job prospects. As of early March, Open Reporter had just over 100 members.

Misha Vinokur

Misha Vinokur

“The big thing is that it’s a closed-off environment where journalists can just talk,” Vinokur said. “It’s not designed for the general community. And part of our platform is to create apps to help journalists find stories and vet resources.”

Exactly how Open Reporter will do this, Vinokur isn’t precise. How the site will sustain itself is something of a mystery, too. He suggested that although registration for Open Reporter is free, there may be a price assessed for job hunters and job posters.

There also may be an embedded streaming content aggregator that scoops up and redistributes news media reports to members, but that, along with almost everything else about Open Reporter apart from the discussion boards, is in the discussion stage.

Vinokur realizes it sounds odd that an entrepreneur should offer a networking service for people who are paid to do their own networking, but he’s keeping an open mind.

To underscore his sincerity, Vinokur installed a sepia-toned perspective of the Watergate apartment complex in Washington for Open Reporter’s home background image.

Watergate was a monumental component for journalism,” he acknowledged. “Our long-term business strategy is to help journalists become successful. And like Watergate did, we want to help inspire the next generation of journalists and help them report the news.”