Well, here we are 35 years later, and CNN is still pushing electrons through trillions of miles of coaxial and fiber-optic cables while magically appearing on HD television sets, tablets, home computers and cell phones that were barely on the drawing board at the dawn of the cable news era.
That 24-7 promise has held up pretty well over the decades; the coverage promise, not so well.
From time to time, I like to check in on how the cable news networks are doing. There are more of them now, of course, all trying to steal away part of the once-estimable CNN audience.
I checked on them earlier today, switching from channel to channel between 12 and 12:30 p.m., Central Daylight Time. This is a time still slotted for news coverage, not one of those manufactured pseudo-news programs that are steadily taking over each network's daily schedule.
You may be surprised to learn that the three major U.S. networks -- Fox News, MSNBC and CNN -- were virtually devoid of actual news for the entire 30-minute period. That is, unless you consider coverage of a peaceful, almost celebratory, demonstration in Baltimore and a Royal baby leaving the hospital as actual news, for those were virtually the only "stories" covered by all three networks during the 30 minutes.
It was the only story covered by CNN and MSNBC with the only distinguishing characteristic being MSNBC's aerial coverage of Prince William's drive from the hospital to his royal castle garage. Fox was slightly better, briefly mentioning that rains in Australia had killed five before spending five minutes informing viewers that three more Republicans were expected to enter the 2016 U.S. Presidential race soon. Their coverage was tarnished a bit, though, when one commentator referred to Bernie Sanders as "Barney."
Fortunately for Central Iowa viewers who want more expansive news coverage, there is another option. DISH and DirectTV viewers (sorry Mediacom folks) have access to Al Jazeera America, the Qatar-based operation that bought out Al Gore's Current TV network in 2013. Some people won't watch the Arab-owned network for ideological reasons, but I think that would be a mistake.
Al Jazeera America is based in New York, works out of the Newseum in Washington, D.C., has a dozen bureaus across the U.S. and has siphoned off some major talent from other networks, like Ali Velshi from CNN and Ray Suarez from the PBS Newshour.
While the U.S. networks were awash with Baltimore and royal baby coverage, Al Jazeera America also covered Baltimore but found time for several other stories, such as:
- Rebels in Syria consider joining forces to fight ISIL while Syrian President Assad is accused of another chlorine gas attack on civilians.
- U.S.-led bombing in northern Syria is alleged to have killed more than 50 civilians. The U.S. says it is investigating.
- They are still pulling bodies from the rubble in Nepal following the earthquake and health officials are worried about the possible outbreak of diseases.
- Italy has rescued 1,000 African migrants from dangerous seas in the Mediterranean.
- The Nigerian military rescues another 230 women and girls from Boko Haram, raising the recent total of women and girls rescued to 700.
- The Ebola outbreak has hurt tourism in Senegal.
- Maldives arrests have led to demonstrations.
- Tonight is the Fight of the Century -- Mayweather vs. Pacquiao.
- Australian rains kill five.
- Singer Akon brings electricity and lights to Africa.
In the ratings game, it's no contest. Fox ("Fair and Balanced") News pulls twice the viewers that CNN does and MSNBC lags even further behind. I haven't been able to find where Al Jazeera America might rank, but it's undoubtedly behind even the godawful evening lineup that CNN's sister network, HLN, spews each evening.
Broadcast news at least has some cover from the more-profitable entertainment divisions of their networks, but those lines have been blurred by morning shows and "news magazines" in recent years and ratings mean something in that world, too. But in cable news, ratings are THE game.
That's why it's so disappointing that a station like CNN, which actually called it "Breaking News" the other night when Baltimore carried through on its plan announced a day earlier to enforce a curfew (without incident, incidentally), outdraws a station like Al Jazeera America that takes its promise to deliver news with an accurate and global perspective so seriously.
Such a station deserves better.
Larry Lehmer is a retired newspaper reporter and editor who still gets on his high horse once in a while. His current endeavor is to finish a book he's been working on about the Philadelphia years of American Bandstand. If you have anything to share, shoot Larry an e-mail here. If you want to comment about this post, do so in the comments section. If you're curious about Larry's other blogs (there are four in all), check out the links in the header of this blog.
Photo: Original CNN anchor Bernard Shaw