The big media news over the weekend was the announcement that Chris Wallace was leaving Fox News and the subsequent revelation that he is heading to CNN’s new digital platform, CNN+. While there are a lot of conservatives who have been critical of Wallace over the last couple of years, the move says less about his possible shifting political leanings or what at the network may have driven him out and more about the upcoming shift we’ll be seeing from CNN.
With a corporate merger and new corporate overlords, it’s very likely that CNN is going to be seeing a re-alignment toward its original mission of journalism. Wallace is a big hire in that regard. He is a longtime newsman who has shown over the last two years that he can be tough toward the left and the right. He is also fairly well-respected across multiple networks. It’s a solid public relations move for CNN.
A bit below the surface, though, is the acknowledgment that CNN’s corporate owners realize something Fox News realized a few years ago: Digital content isn’t the future. It’s right now.
Fox Nation app downloads have been on the rise for a while, and regular events like CPAC and special programming usually create massive bumps in the download rate for its app. With the rise of so many successful streaming apps and the fact that we, apparently, haven’t hit critical mass where people are just giving up on those services and going back to cable. CNN is extremely late to the game, but a hire like Wallace shows that they are taking it seriously.
And it does afford them the opportunity to present a shift toward more balanced reporting (at least, the outward appearance of that) which will give them an edge over the competition.
Fox News has remained the dominant force among the 24-hour news channels, and it’s not just because there are more conservatives out there watching the news than progressives. Consider that the big three networks — ABC, NBC, and CBS — have a combined audience larger than Fox. But that is to be expected because there are a lot of more casual news watchers who check out the local news on those affiliates and then just leave it on for the national news afterward.
Fox, CNN, and MSNBC (and the smaller, niche ones) are for a more news-centric audience. But the reason Fox draws more isn’t necessarily just their political lean, but the fact that they’ve been honest about it. MSNBC can stay competitive because they do the same. CNN has constantly branded itself as a balanced news organization, but it’s very obvious that they aren’t. As a result, a lot of viewers felt lied to.
While Trump was President, CNN was able to tap into a market of outraged progressives looking for reasons to be angry. But if you build your hopes on someone’s presidency and then that guy leaves the presidency, you’ve screwed yourself. Corporate offices understand this better than the editors and producers do, and they want to see a shift back to what CNN was.
I’m just not sure if the combination of streaming and shifting focus will be enough to help CNN recover what they’ve lost in terms of audience and reputation. But, at this point, it can’t hurt to try. Wallace will be good for CNN in both regards.