By Holland Cooke
BLOCK ISLAND, RI — Have you seen WGN America’s primetime “News Nation?” Have you seen promos for the 7:00 pm CNBC newscast Shepard Smith will anchor beginning September 30? These shows are testing a novel concept: Just tell me what’s happening, instead of how-you-feel-about what’s happening.
“With balance, not biased.”
Though WGN’s slogan is eerily similar to the original FOX News proposition “Fair and Balanced,” the News Nation product actually delivers; unlike “We report, you decide” FOX imaging with which cagey Roger Ailes affirmed the like-minded. News Nation is very down-the-middle, “News, Not Opinions,” with no arched brows, no mockery.
WGN’s affable cast is poised and professional. They’re engaging and inviting and clearly glad to be there… conspicuously less dark-cloud than those on the opinion-laden prime time cable news shows who spend all day reckoning how to make you anxious about what the opposing opinion channels are telling you.
I suppose that includes stringers, and News Nation is resourcefully assembled, though WGN’s own crew (including CBS News veteran Dean Reynolds) is impressive. While most other media are cutting-back – and consumers are noticing – seeming asset-rich is smart.
News Nation copy is well-written; and having three hours really gives stories room to breathe. This viewer doesn’t feel recycled as a new hour begins. The show is handsomely packaged, slick but understated compared to casino-font-looking graphics that fly across the screen elsewhere accompanied by whooshing sounders.
Too late to turn back now?
Although Shepard Smith’s FOX News exit was polite, it invited the inference that he had had-it-up-to-here, surrounded by soreheads among whom he seemed the outlier. Those who under-estimated candidate Trump four years ago under-estimated the power of grievance and resentment, which the president plays like a Stradivarius, every…single…day.
All legacy media are scrambling, especially network TV’s “Evening News.” By evening, we already know the news. We got it all day on smartphones. Years before smartphones, Ailes figured that news had become a commodity, like bottled water. FOX gave us their version of Aquafina Flavorsplash, flavored news; and other channels counterpunched.
In 2016, Trump’s run was stunting in advance of a TV channel he was plotting, until election night. So he has a plan B for 2021. Either way, the extent to which these ambitious new no-nonsense primetime newscasts succeed will be a measure of our resilience as a people. The noise channels will endure, but we welcome earnest new players to the cable news arena.
Holland Cooke (HollandCooke.com) is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. He is the author of the E-book “Multiply Your Podcast Subscribers, Without Buying Clicks,” available from Talkers books (click the banner on this page). And he hosts “The Big Picture” TV show Friday nights at 7ET on RT America. Follow HC on Twitter @HollandCooke