Jeff Zucker Defends CNN's Coverage of Justin Bieber

Jeff Zucker, CNN's newest chief, thinks that breaking news isn't enough for the nation's first all news cable network and is defending his turn toward entertainment, docu-series and coverage of Justin Bieber.

During his keynote address to the RealScreen Summit held in Washington DC on January 27, Zucker admitted that, "If we rely just on breaking news, that’s probably not a long term game."

Once again Zucker expounded on his "new vision" for CNN by focusing on his new shows but the cable boss also defended his network's coverage of Justin Bieber's travails, coverage that brought CNN sharp criticism.

"I’m incredibly comfortable with the way CNN covered the Justin Bieber story," Zucker told the audience. "It’s easy to pick on that coverage, and what people often do is they cover the Bieber story by deriding what other people are doing. That’s their way in. The Bieber coverage was never wall-to-wall…I don’t think CNN had it out of proportion at all. When you take the whole of what we do, it’s completely in the right proportion. No news organization is perfect, and CNN is not always perfect. But I think we had this right. We did cover the Bieber story, and I’m not going to apologize for what we did."

CNN brought Zucker in a year ago to retool the flailing cable network that had seen steadily falling ratings over the previous few years, but during his first year at the helm, ratings have neither surged nor sank. The elder news network is back to second place in the ratings, granted, but many feel this is likely due more to MSNBC's cratering ratings than it is Zucker's great success.

Still, CNN has garnered plaudits for its docuseries Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown and has announced a slew of new movies and other docuseries for 2014. Zucker even announced that a new unscripted show will soon begin to air in the 10PM slot, though he gave no further details.

But news won’t go by the wayside. "We’re never going to stray from breaking news," Zucker said during his speech. "But I think we also have recognized that there are many ways for people to get their news these days."

This, of course, is a bit of a different take than what the network chief said in an interview with Capital New York in December of 2013. Then, Zucker famously said that CNN "needs more shows and less newscasts" sparking fears of major upheavals to come. The major upheavals didn't necessarily come and news stayed as an important focus.

But, one TV reviewer for New York magazine criticized CNN's news content saying it still has not made the network "feel like a vital part of the daily political conversation." Mostly because Zucker's new pundits "never seem particularly interesting or insightful."

Of course, it may take several years to revitalize CNN. After all, it took a decade for it to fall into ratings obscurity. If Zucker is allowed to keep at it, he may yet make a difference with bold new programs and good hires.

Speaking of good, new hires, the TV chief knocked down one rumor of such. With Jay Leno's time as host of the Tonight Show coming to an end, tongues have been waging that Zucker is looking to add the late night host to his own stable of CNN stars. But Zucker shot those rumors down.

"Jay is an enormous talent, but it’s just not in the cards. It’s not something we’re thinking about right now," Zucker said.


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