The title of this post is a question asked by a student in my media and politics class a couple years ago. It came to mind when I was reading Ross Douthat’s column today. (And a tip of the hat to another student in that class, Ben Balter, for forwarding the article to me.) Douthat argues that CNN’s ratings decline can be fixed with “conversations that are lengthy, respectful and often riveting” and that eschew standard red-blue binaries and give “free rein to eccentricity and unpredictability.”
I rarely watch cable news, but that plan sounds plausible enough. Indeed, it actually sounds a lot like NPR, although NPR’s eccentricities are fairly muted, at least relative to Glenn Beck’s (Douthat’s exemplar of eccentricity and unpredictability). Of course, we should distinguish between NPR’s news programming and their entertainment programming. Perhaps the news programming is too stultifying to meet Douthat’s standard. I would describe it as “lengthy” and “respectful.” Certain stories can be “riveting.” But your mileage may vary.
Regardless of my or anyone else’s opinion of NPR, its audience share has grown even as other news sources have lost audience share. Here’s one graph, courtesy of Jon Peltier:
Something in their business model is working. And I have a hard time imagining that NPR listeners won’t watch televised news programming as a matter of principle.
So where is the NPR of cable news?