I’ve almost stopped watching cable news entirely, but it’s not really a political statement on my part. It’s not even a consumer choice. It’s basically a stress management decision. I’ve been through a lot in the last year, and I have to limit the negativity in my life as a matter of self-preservation. I’ve been limiting my social media a bit for the same reason, and I’ve tried to focus a bit more on non-political issues.

One thing I know is that I’m not missing much by eschewing cable news. As Jack Shafer points out for Politico, the audience for CNN, MSNBC and Fox News is not large. It’s almost a matter of concern that it’s so small.

According to October numbers from TV Newser, the three major cable networks attract an average audience of only 4.2 million viewers during primetime, which is when viewing peaks. In a nation of 330 million, that’s just a little over 1 percent of the population. Meanwhile, the three nightly news broadcasts together can reliably pull in 21.5 million viewers a night. The cable numbers pale even more when you analyze individual networks ratings. Cuomo’s erstwhile channel, CNN, drew, according to TV Newser, an average of about 700,000 viewers during primetime in one October week, which is about equal in size to the population of El Paso. Or compare the cable news audience to that of country music (31 million listeners daily) or Netflix (74 million subscribers) to gain another perspective. If country music vanished in a rapture, you’d have to deal with some pretty ornery people. But if cable news disappeared tomorrow, who would notice?

I have to say that if I were given a platform on one of these cable news networks, I’d be pretty depressed  about how little influence comes with the gig. It’s hard to believe you can move the needle much when so few people are watching.

But then you have to stop and consider what platforms actually grant more influence. I’ve worked in more than one job where absolute traffic numbers were considered a meaningless metric and the goal was to attract the right kind of eyeballs. If you want to change things, it’s usually more efficient to influence the people who actually make decisions rather than trying to move the broad public’s opinion. Maybe you can get more people to listen to your podcast than watch Chris Cuomo, but how many of them serve on a congressional staff or sit in meetings at the State Department?

Personally, I’ve never worried too much about my traffic because I know that my stuff in consumed in places where it matters, like the White House and Speaker’s office.

In any case, I think too much emphasis is put on what people are doing on cable news. But, at the same time, there are few more consequential venues for political discussion.

If we’re talking about the spread of disinformation, vaccines for example, it’s true that Fox News plays a big role, but it’s small compared to Facebook. Yet, Fox News is still the worst offender on television and it’s consumed by decision makers. Someone needs to pay attention to what they’re spewing and make some effort to combat it.

It’s just that I think that we need to think about this in a bifurcated way. Cable news doesn’t have a lot of affect on moving public opinion, except marginally over long periods of time. It’s also a pretty static format, where viewers mostly have their minds made up and the networks stick to assigned roles.

So, yeah, you want influence the narratives on cable news as much as possible, but this is more about winning short-term day-to-day battles. I think we have to focus elsewhere if we want to change how the public views the issues that define the two major American political parties. The Democrats are headed for a brutal midterm election cycle, and policing cable news won’t change that.

The party has to find better approaches to improving their standing with the voters.

This is another reason I’ve grown less interested in watching cable news. I just don’t believe that it can help, or hurt, too much in the battle that really matters.

0 0 votes
Article Rating