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CNN Moves Away From Breaking News as Twitter Moves In


Following the lead of other cable news channels, the President of CNN Worldwide has said that the channel needs "more shows and less newscasts." Will that leave breaking news to Twitter?

In November of 2012, Jeff Zucker, previously the President and CEO of NBC Universal (NASDAQ:CMCSA), was chosen to succeed Jim Walton as the President of CNN Worldwide. As Zucker said back then, "I think our competition today is anybody that competes for eyeballs and attention, and produces non-fiction programming. News is about more than politics and war, we need to broaden that definition of what news is…"

One year later, following the success of original, non-news shows spearheaded by Zucker -- like Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown -- Zucker believes his initial approach is working. To continue competing with MSNBC and Fox News (NASDAQ:FOXA), the CEO says that CNN must push even further to develop a distinct personality, or as he explained, more of "an attitude and a take." In an interview with Capital New York published this week, Zucker said, "The goal for the next six months, is that we need more shows and less newscasts."

Of course, the competitors have already made it clear that they too are moving away from newscasts. For example, MSNBC's President Phil Griffin told the New York Times in June that his network is "not the place" for breaking news.

In yesterday's interview, Zucker said that he'd like to be targeting the audiences that are watching channels like Discovery and History, both of which are properties of Discovery Communications (NASDAQ:DISCA), as well as National Geographic and A&E. All of those channels have growing audiences, unlike the cable news channels.

"People who traditionally just watch the cable news networks [are] a great audience. I'm not trying to alienate that audience. But the overall cable news audience has not grown in the last 12 years, OK? So, all we're doing is trading [audience] share. … We also want to broaden what people can expect from CNN."

If CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News are moving more towards original programming to attract more viewers, where is breaking news going?

Consider for a moment where you gather the breaking news that you read, hear, or see: If you are like me, a sizable portion of it is from the Internet. More specifically, it's from social media.

According to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center, 30% of Americans get news from Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) while about 8% keep up to date with current events on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR). The survey highlighted how Twitter's user base is younger, more tech savvy, and more educated than the general news consumers; 45% of Twitter news consumers are 18 to 29, and 40% have at least a bachelor's degree.
Comparatively, only 29% of the total population of news consumers have a bachelor's degree. Moreover, a full 85% of Twitter news consumers see that news on their smartphones.

With recent developments involving how Twitter shares breaking news, it seems like the company is trying to capitalize on its young, educated, and mobile-using demographic.
The micro-blogging platform, which had a major part in disseminating information on events like the Arab Spring and the Boston Marathon bombing, to name two major examples, is now testing a personalized, breaking-news notice that can be pushed to users' smartphones.

On November 13, many Twitter users reported receiving a push notification of a shooting near a Pittsburgh-area high school. Notedly, these users also reported that they had not signed up for any such notifications, meaning that Twitter had chosen a seemingly random group of users to target. The tweet was from the AP, and read, "Breaking: Authorities say three people shot in or near a Pittsburgh high school; police searching for gunman."

Of course, most users expressed confusion, frustration, or even anger for being sent the tweet, with responses like, "I don't live anywhere near Pennsylvania, why did I get a notification?" and "Still trying to figure out why Twitter sent a notification about a school shooting in PA yesterday. Almost like they were pushing an agenda." Given Twitter's occasionally dubious reputation for spreading rumors and inaccurate information, confusion could be expected.

However, Twitter isn't just surprising random users to get breaking news out; it's also experimenting with a service called EventParrot, which automatically sends breaking-news updates via direct message to any users who follow @EventParrot. So far, the handle has 35,405 followers.

A growing number of people get breaking news from Twitter, but unavoidably, and by design, such news comes from a wide array of sources that may or may not be trustworthy: Even legitimate news sources, like AP, have been hacked to post inaccurate information (remember the fake White House explosion tweet from the AP that caused a major sell-off in April?). If Twitter can continue to streamline and accurately control how it communicates with users, it could become a more organized and legitimate source for breaking news.

As the heads of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News have outwardly expressed that they will show less news and more original programming, there is likely a growing opportunity for Twitter, and social media in general, to take the lead in rapidly delivering breaking news.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoshWolonick and @Minyanville
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