Third-Place MSNBC Should Bow More Deferentially

Two-and-a-half years are all you really get in the TV news business--especially if you are in a distant third place. You also need to take more deep bows, occasionally.

Rick Kaplan, as president of MSNBC, was let go yesterday after two-and-a-half years on the job. He made some improvements, notable during the Republican and Democratic conventions with some ratings gains, and more recently with some of the network's higher-profile shows--"Hardball with Chris Matthews" and "Countdown with Keith Olbermann."

MSNBC's prime-time numbers increased by 46,000 viewers, or 16 percent, to 334,000, versus a year ago. Similarly, MSNBC's average daytime audience increased by 63,000 to 190,000.

Sounds good? In the news business, that's not enough. Not when you are still in a distant third place.

The New York Daily News says the 6'5" Kaplan wasn't deferential enough to Jeff Zucker, chairman of NBC Universal Television Group--whatever that means. Should Kaplan have bowed more to smaller Zucker?



In reality, it continues to be tough to make significant gains in cable TV news.  CNN regularly puts up double MSNBC's prime-time audience--around 500,000 to 600,000 viewers. Both CNN and MSNBC, however, are distant also-rans when compared with Fox News, which regularly gets a million or so viewers in prime time.

So what's left to do? Hire screaming, opinionated, and inappropriate hosts/anchors? That's kind of Fox News' thing.

People mostly use the descriptors "abrasive" and "volatile temper" when characterizing Kaplan, a long-time news veteran formerly at ABC and CNN. But that's not the real problem. TV news, Internet news, blog news, is changing everything. Apparently TV executives are not.

Steve Capus, president of NBC News, and Kaplan's boss, says the change was made even though there have been improvements. "It's the right time to go about the next phase of MSNBC," he told The New York Times.

Why do TV executives always say that? Isn't that confusing?  That's not the whole story --which is a troubling metaphor for a news organization such as MSNBC.

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