Analyzing Jeff Zucker

By Alex Weprin Comment

Following the news that Turner Broadcasting is appointing Jeff Zucker the president of CNN Worldwide, the pundits and analysts sharpened the knives. Here are some of the things reporters and columnists are saying about the move.

James Poniewozik, Time: “CNN is proud of being nonpartisan, and makes a point that it doesn’t take sides like Fox or MSNBC. Problem is, you can’t define a strong network just by what it isn’t. And too often that’s been CNN’s approach: it still has great reach and strong reporting when it matters. But day to day it seems too driven by being the network that doesn’t bother anyone. There’s too much smileyness in its daytime programming, too much reflexive blandness on shows like Wolf Blitzer’s The Situation Room. CNN’s nonverbal message, too often, is ‘please don’t get mad at us.'”

Jeff Bercovici, Forbes: “What would a CNN that embraced the most radical implications of what it does look like? It would be a network that knows its job is to inform people in an efficient manner. It wouldn’t try to keep them in their chairs with pundit round-tables or endless crane shots of a podium where we are just moments away from whatever. It would be a network that never took six minutes to tell you something it could tell you in four. It would be a network that sent viewers on their way as quickly as possible, counting on their satisfaction in getting what they came for to bring them back often.”

Joe Flint, Los Angeles Times: “Already there is speculation that he would try to woo Couric to CNN should her talk show fail to get a second season. Zucker would not address what talent in front and behind the camera he would look to hire but did say that besides rejuvenating prime time he’d like to boost CNN’s morning programming, which also lags in third place behind Fox News and MSNBC.”

Brian Lowry, Variety: “Practically speaking, if a primary objective hinges on improving the network’s performance in primetime, that’s a perfectly logical strategy. The problem is attempts to rival the appeal of “nonfiction programming” — a category so broad as to encompass reality shows that have virtually nothing to do with reality — raise red flags about forays that have triggered criticism in the past, while highlighting the delicate balancing act any effort to “fix” CNN entails.”

David Zurawik, Baltimore Sun: “Zucker is also steady, credible and tough. CNN needs all that right now in a president.  You can bet Zucker , who is hardly press-shy, won’t let the PR departments at other cable channels shape media reporters’ perceptions of CNN as they do now without hitting back. Here’s a guy who can stand up to Roger Ailes — and do it with some professional dignity as he works to regain the respect CNN deserves for its journalism.”

Eric Deggans, Tampa Bay Times:  “CNN sometimes scores morning ratings lower than sister network HLN; Zucker, who helped NBC’s Today start a 16-year winning streak in ratings, is now in the building. Hope [Soledad] O’Brien, who anchors the morning show Starting Point (and once worked for Zucker at NBC), is ready for some suggestions on how to be more vibrant.”