A final word on CNN: Grow with what you’ve got

After analyzing and tracking CNN on almost a daily basis this past semester, I’ve witnessed how the site covers everything, from the Super Bowl, to the Royal Wedding announcement – to mass shootings and murder. I’ve spent time researching on the site’s past and seen how its goals translate to the present. I believe I can confidently walk away with the following five takeaways on the breaking news site.

  1. Breaking news does it best          

CNN’s bread and butter is most definitely breaking news packages. Much like its broadcast parent, it has a concise and clear delivery of breaking news events, constantly updating stories as more information comes to light. CNN offers a main breaking news story with bare bones information, and then offers a variety of branch off stories under the main news for people looking for analysis, primer or background. Whether you want to know what happened at the Waffle House, or what the shooter’s background is – CNN gives you a neat and clean look at what’s happening, while it’s happening. It packs a punch.

2.  Click worthy headlines

CNN does a great job at writing effective and click-worthy headlines. My bet is that it grabs advice from its broadcast role model, and uses that same talkative and punchy approach in its web-heads. Instead of writing “The Toronto suspect battles with police” CNN opted for a pull quote: ” ‘Shoot me in the head!’ The Toronto suspect yelled. The officer refused.” It gives readers a better sense of what the story is going to entail, and might peak the interest of more clicks.

3. A lack of visual journalism 

 CNN’s website lacks clear, innovative examples of visual journalism. It rarely experiments with interactive graphics and data visualizations – and usually sticks to a video montage (if that). What’s most surprising is that CNN knows that it lacks visual journalism, and even created an initiative to try to solve this: CNN Travel. CNN travel was branded as its “mobile-first, social product with an emphasis on visual storytelling.” After my own analysis of CNN travel, I see that the team still has a far way to go on creating visually engaging pieces, and getting more creative than the photo gallery and video option.

4. Be friendlier on social media 

CNN has its arm in online journalism and broadcast journalism, and often uses its app, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to advertise and share its content on both of these platforms. From my analysis, I think CNN can do a better job being more “human” on their social media arms to attract younger readers and grab people’s attention.

 

Right now, it seems like a robot writes its tweets (and that very well might be true).

This ruins the effectiveness of a punchy, tell-all tweet. An importance nuance is that CNN’s mission statement is “Facts First.” I think a difficult dynamic for journalism right now is that medium ground between presenting the facts as a bare bones structure, and presenting the facts in an innovative, voice-y and social media friendly way. I empathize with the social media team at CNN because its hard, but its worth taking the time to reconsider approaches.

5. What to do next: grow with what you’ve got.

I think CNN’s next move should be to optimize what it already does best: breaking news. The team’s breaking news packages currently answer all the 5 w’s, and then some. What it can do now is adding more dynamic presentations of the packages. Embed a Twitter timeline. Add a video montage of tweets, or better yet, person on the street reactions. A primer and listicle do the job in telling us the five 5’s, but I think journalism gets deeper and more effective when breaking news is coupled with smart data visualizations and multimedia elements. It differentiates CNN from the other 1940823 breaking news sites that are covering the same event.

In other words, since CNN has established their bread and butter, it’s time to add some jelly with multimedia, risks and dares.

 

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CNN paid attention in elementary school: the power of bar graphs

CNN paid attention in high school: ah, the power of bar graphs. For a skill we learned in elementary school, compare and contrast graphs play an important role in data visualization within stories. In one of it’s recent stories: CNN relied on charts to show why America’s teachers are frustrated with current school systems. The text does almost nothing for the story – the charts, in contrast, answer all of your questions and tell you why you should keep scrolling.

Here’s why it’s effective: we’re constantly bombarded with news, so sometimes a strong statistic in the lede doesn’t do the job to show us the importance or the context of something. So, sites like CNN have to be creative. In other words: I’m lazy, give me a graph, and I’m listening.

In this piece, charts show how funding for school is plummeting, how respected teachers are yet how low they’re paid. Perhaps the most startling graph was the decline of college freshman’s interest in teaching. Screen Shot 2018-04-18 at 8.29.19 PM.png

 

The reporter could have written that interest in education is at an all time low, and they did: “Nationwide, teacher education enrollments dropped 35% between 2009 and 2014, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the Learning Policy Institute.” But what makes this piece a good example of data visualization is that the words were paired with an effective graphic that shows context, and importance of a certain statistic. The graphic shows how much the trend has actually declined, and better highlights significance.

I think that’s the overall importance of data visualization: knowing when words are effective, and knowing when visuals just do it better. 

Boston University India Club Seniors have their last dance

I spent the day covering the emotions, last few pep talks and hair pulls of the seniors of Boston University’s all female dance team. This Sunday, they took on performing for one last time at Tashan, BU’s India Club Spring showcase.

The “feels” are high during this time of the year: the people you got lost with on the first day of campus became the people who helped you fall in love with the city of Boston. And now, for the first time in four years, you have to say goodbye to them (for longer than you hoped to).

Here’s a look at a play by play of the seniors’ last day.

 

My  captain took a second to respond to my twitter play by play with something that really struck a chord:

140 characters or I’ll keep scrolling

I want my breaking news to punch.

I want my news to impact me strongly and teach me the importance of the subject matter that has just unfolded, as well as the fact that it has international and national implications.

You jut got a taste of two introductions, that both convey the same message. Which resonated more? If you’re like me, it’s the first introduction. It’s quick, gets the message across, and makes you understand the importance of the statement. Funny enough, it matches my mentality for breaking news.

I want my breaking news to be delivered fast and to the point, like the first introduction. But I don’t want it to be oversimplified.

This week I looked at how CNN took care of breaking news: President Donald Trump replacing his VA Secretary with his current doctor.

Content aside, aesthetic-wise CNN very aggressively presented this news as important and timely. The website had a breaking news banner on the top of its site with the news, and placed the article on the top right of the homepage (which according to some studies, is the first place our eyes look when we go to a website).

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Once you click the story you get a deep dive of the new appointment as well as related links. It’s a strong news package, with a time stamp of each time its updated.

I think this way of delivering news is effective and allows the readers to understand the process that CNN approaches in its journalism. The article starts of broad, something like “Trump appoints new VA Secretary” and gradually grows to include the details of the new secretary, as well as implications. I like that the breaking news is delivered – in a matter of hours – as a news package that allows readers to understand. It’s the short, witty and fast headline that draws me in, but its the depth of information that keeps me scrolling on the page.

In addition to its presentation on the site, CNN has a specific “breaking news” Twitter for all of its breaking news pieces. In the case of this Trump news, the breaking news account retweeted the CNN politics account.The phrasing of the tweet as “JUST IN” reminds scrollers that the news they are seeing is not something from the morning ,or yesterday – it’s happening, and it’s happening right now.

I think that’s how all breaking news should aim to be delivered: it should make us stop in our Twitter feeds, our timelines, or even our walk – and remind us, that the news is happening, and happening right now.

Snap slaps Bitcoin in the face

By this point, we’ve all heard about Bitcoin (the New York Times even questioned if they were more real than boyfriends). It’s cool, it’s hip – and we wish we had invested in it earlier and become millionaires by now.

It’s the kind of thing with the momentum and hype that you would think social media platforms would try to take advantage of.

But for some reason, they aren’t.

Snapchat recently announced that it’s going to slap the cryptocurrency movement in the face:  it’s banning all ICO ads and activities from its platform. And that’s not where it ends. Facebook, Instagram and Google are also all taking measures to limit the amount that we consume advertisements and information about ICOS.

It’s a tricky industry – with a bunch of scam and fraud, and I can’t help but admire that social media giants are prioritizing being reputable, instead of being on the heartbeat of something so main stream. These organizations are slapping fake news in the face, giving up valuable advertisement money, and deciding to take a unified stance against ICOs.

It leaves me to wonder: what would the ramifications be if one of these giants decides to welcome the advertisements and support ICOs? Social media platforms are friends when it comes to difficult business decision, but they’re also competition.

CNN, give me more than a photo gallery.

CNN sticks to bare bone journalism: one photo, one headline, and a block of text. It’s not so much a site that defines itself through dynamic storytelling, but instead through fast, quick hit breaking news.

After going down many rabbit holes and tunnels, I was finally able to find an example of the breaking news outlet taking some risks with its mode of storytelling in its travel section. CNN Travel, launched in June 2017, was a recent addition to the news team with a focus on creating a “mobile-first, social product with an emphasis on visual storytelling.” 

Long story short: CNN wants to be young and hip.

A quick peruse through the section, however, and you might be as disappointed as I am. Sure, there are stunning photo visuals, strong headlines, but the section lacks interactive graphics, or infographics.

After doing some heavy digging, I did find a piece on CNN Travel that had some visual elements: “Where to eat in London’s Chinatown.”

The piece has a large and beautiful photo gallery of tantalizing eats, as well as a map graphic of the area’s Chinatown. In this case, I think the writer is hoping the pictures alone elevate the story to make it dynamic. But sometimes, just a picture of hot pot doesn’t convince a reader that the piece is interesting. If I was on the team, I’d try to create gifs to embed in the piece, as well as an interactive graphic of a map detailed with the restaurants mentioned.

It leaves me wondering – if your purpose is to be a quick turnaround outlet with hard news, is it worth trying to elevate your brand to be more than it is? Is it worth branding CNN’s new travel section as a place for the “globally curious” if in reality, it lacks depth and creativity? In CNN’s case, I think that the organization would need to put my resources and focus on visual storytelling if it wants to brand itself as highly dynamic. Give me more than a photo gallery.

 

Same story, different approaches: Who will prevail?

How do you write a story thats already been written?  That’s the one question that’s been on every journalist’s mind, during the 2018 Winter Olympics. The United States will win, and she will lose. How do we write a compelling, new story?

CNN tried to join in on the coverage through its third party: the Bleacher Report. They posted a story on Mikaela Shiffrin winning a gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Using a lazy lede and dull quotes, the story is a hard read. You can get all the information you need to know from 140 characters, so why would you read the Bleacher Report’s extra long piece, that lacks any form of multimedia?

In contrast, the New York Times took a swing at the same, classic story of someone winning a gold. In this case, the Times graphic design staff stepped up to take the story to the next level. They show Mikaela Shiffrin, among other skiers, in a real time graphic/gif, to highlight how the USA team member led throughout the race. The graphic isn’t simple: users can hover over different animated skiers to see the team and name of Shiffrin’s competition. Shiffrin herself has a time stamp of how fast she was going at any given spot during the race. The graphic was educational – and more than just a pretty addition.

So far, CNN has failed to take a more compelling approach to its Olympics coverage, especially considering their Shiffrin coverage. I do see hope, however, in their “Twitter timeline” set up on their home Sports page, where users can scroll through contributor’s tweets and get bits and pieces from on the ground in a fast fashion.

I hope to see CNN take more advantage of their on the ground reporters, and be more innovative with their reporting. Sometimes it’s as simple as embedding some toothy tweets in a wordy piece. There’s always an interesting way to tell a story.

The Eagles aren’t just the winners, they’re the warriors.

Sports enthusiasts, regardless of what team they’re on, need something more to chew on other than “The Eagles won.” CNN took a step away from generic “here’s what happened in the game” coverage, and offered a nuanced analysis of the game, in a “a 10-point stance” by one of the sports writers. By talking about the political actions of players after the game, the potential downfall of the Patriots’ dynasty, and a database of ACL tears that happened this season – the coverage offered a mix bag of information for readers to pore over.

A disclaimer: CNN’s sport content is provided by Bleacher Report, a sports news network that aggressively covers the topic with analyses and breaking news reports. Understandably, the sports coverage on the site differs from other coverage because it is deeper, and more niche.

 

I thought the listicle approach to post Super Bowl coverage was interesting, but would have appreciated further coverage in certain areas. For example, the reporter, Mike Freeman, leads with the Eagles players that have become social justice warriors. He touched upon the incendiary topic that players can often speak their mind about race, politics, and Donald J. Trump, while staying and playing on the field. Freeman’s short take opened a can of worms, and I for one would have loved to hear more about what this precedent means for sports in general.

The mixed bag approach to coverage also can be confusing, we start off with a headline about politics and football, and end with Minneapolis’ weather. If a reader came to CNN with hopes of getting a sound recap, this would be the wrong place.

In the end, it depends on what the consumer wants, and it’s up to the news organization to do its very best job guessing what exactly that is. In this case, I think CNN/Bleacher Report took a risk by offering a strong 10 point commentary on a very aggressively  covered sports event.

Plus – who wouldn’t click on a piece that calls the Eagles, the warriors?

A look into CNN’s mission as “the most trusted name in news”

CNN is a news organization that hopes to be a leader in information delivery, whether through its television coverage or online news site presence. A stale, pretty generic definition if I’m being honest.

A look into CNN’s “About Us” page shows a stale statement on the company’s 24/7 coverage with worldwide bureaus and staff. Recently, however, CNN has transitioned to a highly aimed mission statement, due to recent events and tension with the current Trump administration.

CNN renewed its contract to unbiased journalism by emphasizing a “Facts First” mission, slapping the idea of alternative facts with a minimalist advertisement.

The advertisement, showing a standalone apple, says the following:

“This is an apple. some people might try to tell you that it’s a banana. they might scream banana, banana, banana over and over and over again. They might put banana in all caps. You might even start to believe that this is banana. but its not. This is an apple.” The screen shifts to say the words: “Facts First” followed by the CNN logo.

The advertisement was looked at by pundits and consumers as an attack on Trump’s tweets and his often inflated and erroneous “alternative facts.”

A further explanation of the ad says that opinions matter, “they don’t change the facts.”

The ad, which promises that CNN will report the facts, versus opinion, first, has been criticized by conservatives and journalists due to the company’s overwhelmingly biased coverage of Trump.

As it shifts through various multimedia technologies and and platforms, CNN continues to try to brand itself on its longstanding history as “the most trusted name in news.”

Does that brand still work?

As CNN continues to focus on an expansive and overwhelming agenda of negative, and sometimes  fluff coverage on the current administration, consumers can see its reputation, and consequently its mission, go down. While it may prioritize the idea of facts first, a lack of balance and a tone of negativity, will make even the real facts appear tinted with bias.

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Can a burger bring back net neutrality?

 

Here’s something to chew on: Burger King’s latest menu addition is a political statement, with a side of parody – hold the pickles.

On its homepage, CNN flashed the headline: “Burger King trolls net neutrality repeal with Whopper ‘fast lane’ ad.”

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Like most consumers, I’m used to the Burger King name being associated with Cheeto Cheese fries, or dollar menu deals, not a political statement. This article reels you in because of its unique content,  organized efficiently, coupled with an effective video of the ad.

Using a show, not just tell, type of story structure, CNN pulls the reader in with its large video display, and bolded lettering. Audio automatically plays when you click on the page. There is a bolded webhead underneath the video summarizes the story, to give the reader a fast indicator on whether they want to keep reading.

 

As shown in the video, customers walked in and were told that they had to wait 15 to 20 minutes if they wanted normally priced food, or they could pay $26 for faster service. It was supposed to be parody of an internet ruled by no net neutrality, where providers could make senseless price jumps for access to content, in this case, burgers.