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Why the Internet is not today's CNN


By: Scott Bradner


Ted Turner founded the Cable News Network (CNN) in 1980.  It took a few years, but CNN became a major source of new for most of the U.S.  For example, according to the latest Pew Research survey, 38% of the U.S. public turns to CNN and its cable news competitors for news about the current presidential campaign.  That is essentially the same percent as turn to their local TV news and somewhat ahead of the percent that get their news from the nightly network news or from newspapers and about 30% more than those who admit to getting campaign news from the Internet. The  Internet is growing in importance (up from 9% in 2000 to 24% a month ago) but is still not a dominate player but still may be a dominate effecter. 


The survey (   released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project ( makes for interesting reading, as most of the Pew reports do.  It contains lots of charts detailing the survey findings.  Perhaps the most telling is the one showing the generational divide over news sources.  The relative importance of the Internet and local news shows as information sources is almost reversed when you compare the over 50 population (50% local news & 15% internet) to the 18-29 population (25% local news & 42% Internet).


A lot of news is only "covered" if that is the right concept, by Internet-based blogs.  For example effectively no major print or TV news show is reporting in any detail on the vote recount going on in New Hampshire while there are a number of blogs publishing the up to the minute results.  But this example illustrates a basic bias and competence problem with Internet news that is likely much worse than that with most major news organizations or newspapers. 


Allegations of bias are leveled against CNN and its major competitors all the time, and, from what I've seen, for quite good reasons.  But the worst of these allegations are milk toast when compared to the vitriol and speculation in some of the blogs.  The New Hampshire reports in the blogs are, at best, varying in their degree of believability.  Too many border on supermarket tabloid quality.  A major problem is that it can be very hard to tell.


At least most viewers of network news or talk shows or readers of news papers have enough of a history with particular hosts or news editors to correct or their, often obvious, biases.   That is not as easy to do with some of the blogs that appear to be well written but there is no way to know the background, biases or basic competence of the writer.


If the trend shown in the Pew report continues (e.g., more than doubling the percent of people getting political news from the Internet in the last 4 years) we will soon have a generation of potential voters that get their news from an environment where no one can tell that you are a rabid dog when you write about a candidate, as long as you use proper diction.  That does not make me feel better about the future.


disclaimer:  I expect some folk at Harvard worried about the impact of anonymous pamphleteering during the revolutionary war, maybe the above is more of the same, in any case the above is mine, not Harvard's, expression of worry.