This is the new CNN

Marc Ambinder
The Week

This is CNN. 

Breaking News. Race Cars Crash At Daytona.  

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As I watch on Saturday, if it bleeds or blows up, it leads. 

Incredible images. Flames. Flying car parts. Smoke. 

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Don Lemon: "Can you imagine? Unbelievable."

In the past 20 seconds, as I wrote the sentences above, CNN replayed the crash six times.

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A spectacular car crash at the Daytona International Speedway would not normally justify a producer's throwing out a rundown, even on a Saturday. But Jeff Zucker is in charge now. And CNN is going to cover the stories, the images, and the angles that grab viewers and keep them watching. If that means an obsession with a broken cruise ship; endless discussions of a retired senator's lovechild; numerous live-shots from Oscar Pistorius trial — and less and less about Washington, North Korea, the sequester — then so be it.

This might not be good news. But it is good television. And CNN can do this better than MSNBC, and arguably, better than Fox News. There will be plenty of time devoted to traditional news stories, but less so than before. Those guest panels that tend to annoy the political cognoscenti — you'll see them louder and with more interesting, more shocking voices. 

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There are a lot of ways for Americans to get their news. CNN is finally accepting the realities of the modern cycle, which is ironic, because it was, in the beginning, its first adopter. But then politics became far more polarized, and CNN miscalculated. They turned bland and analytical. They shuffled personalities, but didn't have a good strategy about how to use them.

The economy forced massive budget cuts. Nothing differentiated CNN from...the old CNN. There were reasons to watch MSNBC and Fox. 

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The new CNN has new personalities, many of them with news chops, like Jake Tapper. But fundamentally, Jeff Zucker wants to get you watching his network. More breaking "news," more sensational stories, more gossip, more surround-and-drown coverage of stuff that doesn't, in a biblical sense, merit it. Replays of car crashes. Repeated endlessly. A much faster pace.

I don't have a problem with this. Actually, I kind of like it. It may not tickle the cockles of Ted Turner and the original generation, but people — and not just the lowest common denominator — have different expectations about what they're watching. What's the alternative? A 24-hour PBS? Viewers can create that on their own, using NPR and Al Jazeera online. As much as the responsible part of me wants to say that solid "news" coverage will draw viewers, I can tell you that I, for one, would rather gawk at a car crash on a cold Saturday afternoon than to hear another panel about the sequester. 

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Oh, and more breaking news from CNN. As I type:

Sex scandal, money scandal. Rumor control. Gay priests blackmailed by male prostitutes!

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Damn right. I'm still watching.

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