If you’re reading this right now, you’re one of the tens of millions of people nationwide that has come to rely on the Internet and its scores of independent news sources to stay up to date with current events. You also happen to be a particularly nasty thorn in the mainstream media’s side, as news giants CNN and FOX continue this year’s truly horrendous downward trend in viewership and ratings.
CNN reported a 50% overall loss in viewership last month compared to its numbers from March 2011. And while the events of last spring presented massively inflated figures for the network due to the Japanese tsunami and the Arab Spring, this year’s reports are a significant drop by anyone’s measure. The network has received harsh criticism over the past several months for giving minimal coverage to important national and international issues such as the NDAA, Occupy Wall Street, and the Arab Spring, all the while relying on fluff pieces such as celebrity gossip and technological gimmickry to lure in an aloof target demographic of 25-54 year-olds.
Ironically, such tactics have only increased the distance between CNN’s supermodel anchors and their frustrated audiences, as 60% of the A25-54 market has fled from Anderson Cooper and friends in the past month alone and into the informative arms of sites such as Reddit, Slate, the Huffington Post, and the countless blogs and mobile news apps that populate our devices.
The allure of getting your news from the same place you get your cat pictures from is surprisingly easy to comprehend – the web offers an open marketplace with an almost limitless supply of frequently updated sources that can be quickly scanned for relevant headlines and stories. Podcasts, video-clips, and articles can be perused at leisure, allowing consumers to get whatever news content they want whenever they want it, rather than being forced to sit through the tawdry news-cycle of the mainstream TV media. Moreover, much of the content on the Internet is independently financed, allowing content-creators to report on anything relevant or interesting.
There is very little doubt at this point that televised news media is a sinking ship. While the major networks bleed viewers with coverage of the Kardashians, sites like NPR, Wired, and The Economist enjoy increased readership and listenership numbers online for providing quality – if niche – content to their consumers. In fact, news websites on the whole enjoyed growth to the tune of 17% last year, while network television growth languished in comparison.
CNN is not alone in their shoddy performance, as FOX News reported a 17% loss of their own – only MSNBC came out smiling with a modest 3% bump in audience growth. Hopefully, the profit-driven boards of network television will learn from the lesson these dismal numbers have provided – that the public is more interested in quality news reporting than it is in absurd, attention-snatching Tosh.
Note: A previous version of this article indicated CNN’s losses as the percent-change compared to their audience metrics from March of last year.