MSNBC's Griffin: 'We're not the place' for breaking news

The New York Times | MediaBistro | The Nation

MSNBC president Phil Griffin doesn't seem much concerned about his network's latest ratings slide from second to fourth place behind Fox News, CNN and HLN, despite heavy cable network viewership during recent major news events. His explanation: MSNBC doesn't do breaking news anymore.

"We're not the place for that," he tells the New York Times' Bill Carter. "Our brand is not that." Griffin, who already has said "this whole concept of journalist has to be rethought," said an 18 percent loss in viewership in the second quarter so far this year (including sharper drops for shows hosted by Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow) is a bump on the road as MSNBC continues to shift its focus on being outspokenly left-wing to counter Fox News' conservative stance.

“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.”

CNN has enjoyed strong ratings for events such as the Boston Marathon bombings in April, even though the network (along with several other news organizations) botched some of that coverage.

And while Fox News continues to enjoy its position as the No. 1 cable news network in terms of viewership, Reed Richardson wrote in The Nation that Fox not only faces a unique drawback based on its target demographic of "mostly just people over 65 and conservatives," but is suffering an erosion in viewer trust.

Richardson cites a Public Policy Poll ranking Fox as the "least trusted" news source, with support receding among even self-described mainstream conservatives, partially explaining Fox hosts like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity losing viewers after the 2012 election.

But back to MSNBC: Responding to criticism that Americans are tired of political coverage, Griffin countered that MSNBC continues to offer plenty of breaking news coverage among its core offerings, and people shouldn't be thrown by its rebranding efforts.

Mr. Griffin offered his own definition of the network: “We are a news and information channel that focuses on politics and what’s going on in the country.”

“To say ‘news channel’ in the modern age is irrelevant,” he added. “E is a news channel. The Weather Channel is a news channel. Politico is a newspaper. They all do news and information in a different way.”

  • Joshua Gillin

    Joshua Gillin is a contributor to Poynter's MediaWire blog and a writer, editor and pop culture blogger for the Tampa Bay Times and its sister tabloid, tbt*.


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