Holy Headlines, CNN!

I’m not complaining or anything, but has anyone noticed how tabloidy the CNN.com front page has gotten lately? The subject matter is more topsy-turvy than ever and the headline writing seems deliberately offbeat.

“Libby’s Defense Tackles Bush’s Former Spokesman” (TACKLES?!?)

“Dead Soldier To Father Kid With Woman He Never Met”

“Idiot Window Washer Hangs By Toes 6 Floors Up”

A screenshot of the front page as of one minute ago is below:

Just to repeat, I’m not complaining, but I’ve definitely noticed a gradual change from CNN’s matter-of-fact hard news approach to a more entertainment-based approach over the last year. For better or for worse, I think most news outlets will move in the same direction if they aren’t already.

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40 Responses:

  1. Think they’re monitoring Newsvine’s homepage and adjusting accordingly? :)

  2. Adrian L says:

    Amazing, isn’t it?

    It’s not just CNN though. They’re all getting this way. Sensationalizing the news. News isn’t news, its entertainment these days.

    Makes me sad, though. Also makes me read more BBC news all the time.

  3. Devon Shaw says:

    I’ve never been a fan of the Communist News Network anyway… they went from subtle sensationalism to blatant. The actual content hasn’t changed. Their election returns system is delightedly clean and my primary choice, but actual content has historically been lacking.

  4. Tom Q says:

    Mike – If you want good, solid news you should be reading the BBC

  5. Not only are they sensationalizing headlines, they’ve got highly annoying ad / registration popups too. I guess they figure those too ignorant to have a browser without popup blocking are also receptive to this news-as-entertainment garbage.

  6. If it bleeds it leads right?

    I remember Jon Stewart had the author of Bias on the show once, and Jon said (paraphrasing) “Is bias really the most important issue we need to deal with right now? Isn’t the sensationalism, the inaccuracy, the tendency of the cycle to create news from nothing the real problem.”

    And I think he’s right. This is a problem conservatives and liberals can get together and address. First let’s make the media responsible and reasonable–then focus on potential biases.

    Good find Mike.

    Ryan Holiday

  7. Andy says:

    The thing that drives me nuts is how they have switched a lot of their stories to video only. Now don’t get me wrong, I love video…heck I am a videographer. But there are a lot of times when you can’t really watch video and all you want to do is read the news.

  8. Christian says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s noticed this trend. CNN used to be my top news site, but they’ve gotten progressively less informative as time has gone on. Unfortunately, they’re still second-to-none in getting the really breaking news stories; I almost always hear a big piece on CNN before the other networks get them.

  9. CNN has become a 14 year old girl’s blog. There’s actually a thread in one of my forums with a bunch of screenshots…scary and sad. http://www.ridemonkey.com/forums/showthread.php?t=157731&page=3

  10. Kevin Crawford says:

    I saw an interview on PBS with Mike Wallace a couple years back. He mentioned then that his biggest concern with the news was the shift away from true, responsible journalism. He also said that when he entered the media, no editor would report the stories that they commonly run now.

    I have already started to educate my 10 year old son on how the media will “spin” a story. I am completely amazed how many adults accept everything they are handed as gospel. I would agree with the others that the BBC is probably the best I have seen.

  11. Kevin says:

    Amen, Andy (the first one). At work the videos are block by our proxy and since the story is video only I can’t see it. By the time I get home I’ve already forgotten about them or just plain don’t care any more.

  12. Ryan says:

    One word for it: Diggbait.

  13. Jeff says:

    It’s not just television news sites either. The newspaper sites are just as bad.

    Agree with Adrian above: news has become entertainment.

  14. Lewis says:

    Adrian L writes:
    Amazing, isn’t it?

    It’s not just CNN though. They’re all getting this way. Sensationalizing the news. News isn’t news, its entertainment these days.

    Makes me sad, though. Also makes me read more BBC news all the time.

    # January 29, 2007 10:04 PM


    And more recently have you heard about last week’s conference in London hosted by the Mayor where Ken Livingstone was debating with Daniel Pipes on the topic of ‘A World Civilisation or a Clash of Civilisations’? No? Didn’t you hear about it on the BBC? Odd that, particularly since the debate was chaired by the Beebs own Gavin Esler.

  15. Jason says:

    No kidding.. before long they’ll be the next Superficial !!

  16. Greg says:

    Is Assoc. Press any better?

    Just curious.

  17. Brandon says:

    Great points Mike. A lot of the news media seems to be going downhill. I really started to notice it on CNN late in 2006 when I read the article about Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle’s plane crash. Just read the links to the videos throughout the entire article.


    The guy had just died in a terrible accident and some writer decides to trade any sense of respect or sentiment for a nice bit of sensationalism.

    ‘Watch the orange flames ravage the apartment’ is just an example.

    Headlines or labels such as this have actually led me to visit CNN less and less than I had previously. If the news media as a whole continues down this path, I think people will eventually distrust the source and turn elsewhere (however, I’m not sure where this ‘else’ is.

  18. The (unfortunate) equation: Click = Money

    So what’s the goal here, folks? Get the click.

  19. Mike D. says:

    Sean S.: Well, not Newsvine in particular, but yes, I think this is a direct response to all of the new types of news sites popping up.

    Tom Q: Yep, the BBC is money.

    Andy: I TOTALLY agree. I specifically do *not* click on the video headlines, even if I’m interested in the subject. It has the reverse effect they are intending, with me at least. It’s the difference between having to spend 30 seconds scanning the text story and a few minutes waiting for video ads to play and then getting to the meat (which usually isn’t even that good).

    Ryan: Yep, I definitely smell some Diggbait in there.

    Greg: Yes, Associated Press is generally pretty matter-of-fact when it comes to both headline writing and reporting. There’s more of a formula to it. They aren’t so much concerned with clickthroughs as they are breadth of coverage.

  20. Su says:

    You might be interested in the CNN Fortune Cookie Greasemonky script.
    Although, I always prefered the “…or lobster” variation of the joke myself.

  21. Adrian says:

    Michael Crichton has a great essay on the prevalence of speculation in the media. It is titled “Why Speculate?”

    “Today, of course everybody knows that “Hardball,” “Rivera Live” and similar shows are nothing but a steady stream of guesses about the future. The Sunday morning talk shows are pure speculation. They have to be. Everybody knows there’s no news on Sunday.”

    ;-) I love this essay, as it strikes right at the heart of today’s media.

  22. Agreed, I specifically avoid the video headlines as well. News website video is atrocious; you’d think they’d improve their multimedia delivery after all these years “developing” their sites… but no.

  23. Melissa says:

    I’m surprised at the amount of people suggesting BBC News. Ok I use it because it’s on my Firefox toolbar but I’d rather read Sky News’ website just because they seem to have more information than the BBC when it comes to breaking news – my boyfriend and I are sure it’s due to the fact the BBC is a British institution and is more ‘censored’ than Sky News.

  24. Entertainment sells.

  25. I’d rather read Sky News’ website just because they seem to have more information than the BBC when it comes to breaking news – my boyfriend and I are sure it’s due to the fact the BBC is a British institution and is more ‘censored’ than Sky News.

    It’s not that at all – it’s just that the BBC tends to wait for more confirmation before publishing news. So often, Sky News breaks news faster… but they also sometimes get details wrong. It all depends on which you prefer, really. I’m glad there’s the choice.

    FWIW, I have no problem with some news outlets becoming more entertainment-based… as long as there are others which report in a slightly less sensational style. Again – the choice is important.

  26. Tim Clark says:

    I’ve definitely noticed this. At least half of the front page headlines tend to be directly entertainment related, and even the ones that aren’t are worded with a sensationalist spin.

    I switched to the New York Times website for news a few months back and haven’t missed CNN a bit.

  27. stephen says:

    See here for the most interesting CNN html error. You’ll find the error originates around are that smiley face. Yep, an unclosed image. Still there despite posting about it over a week ago.

  28. bejoy says:

    this is 21st century so enjoy the new.

  29. Brig says:

    Unfortunatley this has been the case for a while. For a long time we haven’t been able to go a day without a Britney or Paris story on the front page of CNN.com.

    That being said… I love and eat this stuff up but I know it must drive intelligent people crazy! Who does Justin want to draw dramatic inspiration from today?

  30. It’s not only the “tabloidization” of the news that annoys me but also the creepy, pseudo-witty banter back and forth between the anchors…. and they’re doing it from the local level on up. Like they’re best buds hanging out… or at some quilting B/sewing circle.

    I say, “spare me the chat spam and get on with it… the stupid laugh you’re trying to have will take away from the triple homicide story coming up!”

    Good topic.

  31. Ted says:


    It would be awesome if you did a write-up on Newsvine and how the company is doing.

  32. You should be complaining, Mike. It’s getting out of hand.

    Around the office we are always asking: Did CNN put up their Britney/Kevin/Paris piece yet?

    We used to be kidding, but now we aren’t.

  33. Remember this is the network whose “journalists” criticized John Stewart for his lack of “hard questions” during his interviews. Every “anchor” on the network is selling some book and being interviewed on their opinions ad nauseum. By definition that is a conflict of interest.

    I long for the days of real journalists like Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow…delivering an unbiased view of the events of the day.

    When American Idol becomes a top-line news story you know there is no hope. I agree with many of the other folks…get some insight from more legitimate sources like the BBC, NPR, IHT.

  34. Peter says:

    oh yeah Mike, just an fyi..I needed a new webhost, so rather than going direct to Dreamhost, I came to your site first and clicked your dreamhost link.. enjoy the $97

  35. Willi says:

    CNN is dead to me: http://livinginsmallsizes.com/2006/12/24/cnn-the-suck/

    It’s an entertainment channel period. Anyone relying on CNN for critical thinking and analysis (i.e., “journalism”) is doing their brain an injustice.

  36. Collin says:

    CNN.com has been my browser’s homepage for some time now, and I’ve been noticing the steady trend towards this kind of content. As a journalism/ communications student, I found it frustrating to find one of Wisconsin’s papers, the Wisconsin State Journal, putting happy shiny stories above the fold. That came with a change in head editors there.

    The “bleeds/leads” saying really rings true with the media, and I think that people are trying to balance the shocking and gory with the tabloid celebrity news and feel good features. I opt more towards knowing what’s happening in congress, the primary run and Iraq/Iran, but I can see how selling papers (or generating hits) can become a real problem without these things.

  37. james says:

    Doesn’t get any more tabloidy than Newsvine announcing Britney Spears has just left rehab!

    Cause that’s what I need to know first thing in the morning. Not anything about those Russia disasters, the prosecutor scandal .. maybe an update on New Orleans.


  38. Mike D. says:

    james: Hey, at least it’s not a human with us. The Britney stuff just comes down the wire and it gets placed based on popularity automatically. But yes, I couldn’t care less about Britney either.

  39. […] with invitations to “watch this,” have long been fodder for Gawker. The front page looks like an “oddly enough” section. So either take that to its logical conclusion and read full-on trash, or switch to a real news […]

  40. […] with invitations to “watch this,” have long been fodder for Gawker. The front page looks like an “oddly enough” section. So either take that to its logical conclusion and read full-on trash, or switch to a real news […]

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