Thursday, September 1, 2016

CNN's General Election Coverage Strengths and Weaknesses

Justin Holbrock

In a presidential election year, September means the start of full-fledged media coverage of the two presidential candidates and everything their campaigns entail.

This is especially true for one of the world’s biggest and most well-known media companies ­— CNN. 

One of CNN’s main areas of focus over the past week has been covering Donald Trump’s recent commitment to improve his standing with minority voters.

These two tweets were taken as screenshots from Donald Trump’s Twitter page. His controversial tweet on top was followed the next day by the tweet on bottom. Photo credit: Donald Trump Twitter page.
On this front, CNN has done a thorough job both online and on television to show the many ways in which Trump has tried to appeal to minorities, especially African Americans and Hispanics. The company also included the extent to which he'll go to get their votes.

From CNN’s coverage over this past week, I’ve been impressed with its ability to stay focused on one area, which in this case was Trump’s search for minority votes.

I also commend the company for having an equal commitment to both digital and television coverage and not letting one medium dominate over the other.

Here’s the Problem

After watching Trump’s joint statement with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and CNN’s coverage of the event on Wednesday afternoon, one thing became abundantly clear: CNN’s television coverage of breaking news contains the same material and format regardless of what program is on and which host is on camera.

The network went from the live event back to Jake Tapper on The Lead where he began to interview a slew of guests asking for their opinion on what just happened.

Immediately following the show, The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer came on and he proceeded to do the exact same thing.

Trump shakes hands with Mexican President Peña Nieto after their joint statement at the Los Pinos presidential residence in Mexico City. Photo credit: Dario Lopez-Mills/AP
Later that night after Trump’s speech in Phoenix, Arizona, anchor Don Lemon came on CNN Tonight and his first sentence was followed by an introduction of six different guests who all gave their take on Trump’s speech.

And that’s the problem with CNN’s current model for covering breaking news.

After mentioning what the news is, the network and its shows introduce so many guests with so many varying opinions that the people who come on get drowned out.

Their words get lost in translation not because they’re being interrupted, but because the sheer number of guests makes it hard to remember who these people are and what they had to say.

Another issue CNN has is giving Trump too much coverage. The company then exacerbates the problem by simply including a quote from Hillary Clinton responding to something Trump said, which CNN attempts to pass off as coverage of the Democratic nominee.  


Moving forward, CNN needs to cut back on the number of guests and correspondents that it has on its shows when talking about either candidate. There are just too many guests with an overwhelming amount of opinions that the broadcast becomes too hard to watch.

A second area of focus for CNN needs to the amount of coverage it gives to Trump and Clinton. 

This is about unfairly covering one candidate more than the other. But more than that it's a chance for CNN to prove it can show restraint by not covering everything Trump does.

His plan is to make as many headlines as possible to garner more coverage. By not going after every news story involving Trump, CNN shifts to a more balanced coverage while also putting journalism before viewership numbers.

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