Journalists need to show their work more, said the head of CNN’s website. But that doesn’t mean actually revealing its anonymous sources.
“In 2019, we should go beyond the marketing campaigns of ‘Facts First’ and ‘Democracy Dies in Darkness’ and all of that,” said CNN.com editor in chief Meredith Artley in a podcast interview by Recode’s Kara Swisher.
“That’s great. That’s really good stuff. We need to go further now. We need to actually do better about showing our work … dial up efforts to be transparent about when we get things wrong or when we change things, why have we done that. I think there’s so much of the journalistic process that audiences don’t understand, and we need to lay that bare. I think that will increase the trust.”
Swisher’s lead-in to the interview left little hope actual journalistic introspection was likely to be revealed by Artley, who came to CNN after stints in the New York Times’ digital room at its outset in 1996, the International Herald Tribune in Paris and the Los Angeles Times digital operation.
“You may know me as someone who likes CNN a little better just because Donald Trump hates it, but in my spare time I talk tech and you’re listening to Recode Decode form the Vox Media Podcast Network,” Swisher began.
In response to a question about what works in terms of reaching readers in the digital age, Artley talked not about hard-hitting reporting or seeking the objective facts of a situation but about other things.
“The thing that’s working really well these days is context and analysis because the world is so, things are so crazy,” Artley said. “What happened in the news cycle three days ago? You have no idea. I have no idea. Things are just moving at such a fast clip.”
She pointed to Stephen Collinson, who writes analysis pieces for CNN – he essentially creates an anti-Trump narrative out of whatever news events have occurred that day. “Anything over 10,000 concurrents (viewers) for us is considered really good,” Artley said. “And Stephen Collinson is getting 20,000 concurrents this morning before 9 a.m. on an analysis piece about Trump’s rage-y weekend. Another one.”
Oddly, the success of an analysis piece full of narrative tells Artley that “especially as a CNN-er, our DNA is breaking news. If the world’s falling apart, this is where you go to let people know what’s going on. This is, we’re now seeing this huge thirst from audiences for context and analysis. So that as just a journalistic technique and marrying the art and the science together, we see that working in really big ways. It’s kind of a basic thing that, no duh, and frankly there were times, even earlier this past year where people didn’t want context and analysis; they just wanted the recent pop.”
Asked after that response how she builds a culture in her newsroom to respond to people who are constantly refreshing their screens, Artley said “I think there are ways that we’re still kind of figuring it out, to be honest. … When Trump started tweeting, it was this conversation inside our newsrooms, and I think others as well, do we cover every tweet? We should. It’s the president, we should cover every tweet. It’s the president of the United States. It’s by definition newsworthy. Then it became like, hold on, wait, slow down. We’re doing stenography journalism right now.”
How does CNN handle this?
“There are moments when something is said. It could be Trump, it could be another story. We should say what we know when we know it, and then publish and then layer on the context as we can.”