Robyn Curnow Q&A

Robyn Curnow answered a handful of questions for TVNewser about making the switch from CNN’s Johannesburg correspondent to the anchor of the International Desk.

TVNewser: What has been the bigger challenge, your new show or moving from South Africa to Atlanta?

Robyn Curnow: I’ve lived in Johannesburg, Sydney, London, Perth and Cambridge, so moving cities wasn’t as big a switch as shifting from the field to the studio. It’s been simultaneously terrifying and amazing to anchor my new show. I want to keep the fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants live reporting style I am used to, but at the same time I am acutely aware I also need to ‘front’ the show. I am still finding my feet but the I-Desk team is really fantastic and we pack the show with live interviews and guests so it’s pacey and intelligent.

TVNewser: You first interviewed Oscar Pistorius back in 2008. What was your initial reaction when you first heard that he was being charged with murder?

Robyn Curnow: It was all quite confusing at first – Oscar did what? Why? After the initial shock I’ve spent the last 18 months trying to wade through the all the rumor, misleading information and drama surrounding the case. All my access to him over the years gave our coverage so much depth, but it also made me sad on a personal level to see how far he’d fallen.

TVNewser: Is it fair to compare Pistorius in South Africa to O.J. Simpson in America? If so, who is more polarizing?

Robyn Curnow: On one level both were about beloved sports stars falling from grace, but I think comparing the details of the crimes and the verdicts is dangerous – each case is unique. On a broader level, both cases changed the way journalists report on a court case. In the same way the O.J. Simpson trial captivated a nation, the Oscar Pistorius trial offered a glimpse into the workings of a South African court for the first time. Never before has a criminal trial been broadcast live in South Africa – it was significant in offering ordinary people a chance to be more engaged in the legal system. Unlike O.J. Simpson, the Pistorius case was never really about race, despite taking place in South Africa, a nation still dealing with its apartheid past. In a strange way, I think the case managed to unite not polarize people; from the townships to the suburbs most South Africans became arm chair legal experts.

TVNewser: You’ve interviewed everyone from Nelson Mandela to Michelle Obama. Was there a time you were truly intimidated?

Robyn Curnow: I always figure that you can find some connection, point of reference, commonality with the people you interview no matter how famous, rich or powerful they are. Funnily enough, Michelle Obama and I found commonality over our interactions with Nelson Mandela. She admitted to me that she was tongue-tied around him and I agreed. He was not the kind of person with whom you could make idle chit-chat. He was an old-school gentleman with a hearing problem and an ability to detach himself emotionally after 27 years in jail. You just knew when you were around him that you were out of his league. So it was a huge honor just to have spent time with him, reported on him and then be privileged enough to be at his funeral.

On a side note, Robyn is back in South Africa on assignment, covering the Oscar Pistorius sentencing. Jim Clancy sat in for her today.

NABJ concerned about CNN

The Daily Caller writes about the National Association of Black Journalists concern for African-Americans at CNN.

The National Association of Black Journalists issued a statement this week condemning the treatment of black employees at CNN.

They cite Suzanne Malveaux, T.J. Holmes and Soledad O’Brien, who have all left or been forced to leave their anchor posts in the past few years. They say there are only two black executive producers at the network.

This week is not a good one for CNN where discrimination is concerned. On Monday, Stanley Wilson, a 51-year-old writer/producer filed a $5 million lawsuit in Los Angeles County against the network for race and age discrimination after he was fired in January. He worked at CNN for 17 years. He was promoted one time despite applying for numerous positions.

To be fair, Suzanne Malveaux lost her anchoring gig because she wanted to relocate to DC to care for her mom (who has ALS).

In April of last year, Joel Dreyfuss, a founding NABJ member, wrote an opinion piece for the organization’s website putting CNN on notice. He wrote the piece from Paris, where he only had access to CNN International:

“Jeff Zucker’s tenure at CNN will be a test case for diversity – in a negative way,” he wrote. “Clearly it’s not a priority for him, at least when it comes to blacks and Hispanics. Can he build a base with an overwhelmingly-white team (and a couple of South Asians), as the faces of CNN? Clearly, he must think so. If he is able to lift ratings without reflecting the America that just re-elected Obama, it will reinforce those who want to believe that diversity is not essential for success.”

This week’s statement cites the fact that NABJ gave CNN it’s “best practices” award in 2007.

So what has happened in the last seven years?

“Since that time, we have seen a number of African Americans leave CNN,” said NABJ President Bob Butler. “I know CNN is going through layoffs, but the departure of so many African Americans is worrisome.

So… Interesting.

(H/t Johnny Dollar)

More layoffs coming to CNN

Yesterday, layoffs were reported about the CNN/HLN sales department. Now, a tipster has informed me that today is the day expected to deliver more of the layoffs.

They went on to say, “So far the other Turner nets have taken the biggest hit over the last two days. Everyone’s just waiting for it to happen to CNN/HLN… and all signs point to today being the day. If not – it’s going to be a long weekend for everyone here.”

Stay tuned.

How long can Coop be quiet?

Answer: Not much longer, unless he wishes to appear weak. Piers Morgan has lambasted Anderson Cooper at every turn, and AC has remained quiet. He called Anderson a bad lead-in, and then today, he revealed he had suggested Anderson be replaced.

And a juicy tidbit about that? Jeff Zucker appears (by Piers’ tale) to have agreed Megyn Kelly would be a great fit for CNN, but that she was headed to Fox News primetime. Presumably that means she could have potentially replaced Anderson.

Unless Anderson wants to look incredibly weak, he needs to respond somehow. Piers has insulted him for a week now, and we’ve had no response for Anderson.

Time’s up, Coop… Say something! It doesn’t have to be harsh, but some response is warranted.

Piers Morgan’s Advice for CNN

Piers Morgan pinned a piece for The Hollywood Reporter. A bulk of it, which I have quoted below, addresses his time (and thoughts about) CNN.

An interesting tidbit? He wanted Anderson Cooper replaced!

Well, Jeff is trying to redefine the primetime slate with taped series like Anthony Bourdain’s superb Parts Unknown, hoping it will provide a more commercially successful alternative to the dreary, repetitive no-news news days. Some programs will work, some won’t — and some will get bounced off the airwaves by breaking news. I understand why Jeff’s doing it, but many CNN staffers are genuinely worried that, as Roger Ailes says, CNN is now “out of the news business.”

Personally, I’m not convinced that chasing ratings is necessary anyway. CNN is not just a U.S. network. It’s a global brand that airs in 200 countries and territories and relies on being an accurate purveyor of news — and it makes a ton of money providing that service. Very little of its revenue — which comes largely from subscriptions now — depends on domestic primetime ratings.

The pressure comes entirely from media critics snarking at low ratings when the news drops off. Of course, when Jeff orders saturation coverage of stories like MH370, the same critics hammer him for trying to milk news ratings as long as possible.

There, they have a point. I tuned in to CNN four weeks after I went off the air to find my old 9 p.m. hour devoted to the exact same debate on the missing plane I had on my final show, even down to the same guests and questions! It was Groundhog Day for cable news, and no anchor I spoke to was comfortable doing it.

My own answer to CNN’s perennial ratings “issue” would be to completely ignore it. Ted Turner, when I interviewed him, said his vision for CNN when he created it was for it to be The New York Times of the airwaves. “Even if the ratings weren’t the greatest,” he said, “if you had the most prestige and you were the network everyone turned to in times of a crisis, that was the most important position in the news business to hold.”

Time Warner chief Jeff Bewkes gave me similar advice: “Don’t do shows just to chase ratings, focus on producing good shows.”

They are both right. But I would add to this the need for anchors who can tell a story, do a lively interview and have opinions. There’s a reason the hottest cable stars in America include the likes of Jon Stewart, Bill O’Reilly, John Oliver and Maddow: They speak their minds in an entertaining way.

I suggested to Jeff that Megyn Kelly would be a perfect primetime star for CNN — young, beautiful, slick, razor smart, bursting with opinions, humor and authority. I was convinced she’d give me a much better lead-in than Anderson Cooper, who for all his qualities as a reporter is stiff in a studio and gets annihilated in the ratings every night by O’Reilly. Jeff nodded and replied, “I tried to get her.” Days later, it was announced Megyn was moving to Fox News primetime, where she’s been a huge hit. CNN has many good anchors, but it needs to find more of its own Megyn Kellys.

How to “fix” Crossfire

Eddie Scarry of Mediaite offered up some suggestions on how to resuscitate Crossfire (which has been MIA for quite some time). Unfortunately, he was way off…

Crossfire, should it return, will have to drop its entire current format.

No more guests.

Crossfire is at its best when the co-hosts are engaging each other. It was during those times that Gingrich compared Hillary Clinton to a clumsy Kim Kardashian and that Cutter and Cupp nearly started pulling on each other’s hair while debating which political party was more obstructive to progress.

Instead, all four co-hosts should be on set each day to discuss the news in whatever terms they want. CNN should also deem Cupp, given her TV experience, as the show’s moderator, if only to have someone who can toss to commercial and move the show’s topics along without looking like a public access channel production.

There’s still time to salvage Crossfire. CNN only has to make it worth saving.

First of all, Crossfire isn’t worth saving…period.

Second of all, SE Cupp is the only one even worth watching (and she’ll be going on maternity leave soon). Newt Gingrich, Stephanie Cutter, and Van Jones are little more than annoying political hacks who contribute very little to any substantive conversation.

My suggestion? Leave Crossfire dead…

(H/t J$P)

Time Warner CEO on CNN

Time Warner CEO, Jeff Bewkes, was interviewed by Sharon Waxman, the editor-in-chief of The Wrap. Though they touched on numerous aspects of Time Warner’s properties, I have quoted the pieces pertinent to CNN.

The highlights? Don’t worry about ratings too much — digital traffic contributes to income, too.

Brushing aside CNN’s ratings, which have lagged far behind competitor Fox News’, Bewkes asserted that all news networks’ ratings are down, and that CNN’s “ratings performance has been better this year relative to the others.”

Besides, he suggested, ratings aren’t as important as people think they are.

“Where the mistake is, I think, is when people look at CNN and they only focus on television ratings,” Bewkes said, citing the “fantastic lead” that CNN digital has over its competitors, and that digital traffic translates to income.

The future for news is digital and mobile, Bewkes insisted, not advertising.

“Don’t miss that story,” he said.

Breakdown of the Turner Broadcasting cuts

Brian Stelter wrote this on CNNMoney:

Turner Broadcasting, the parent company of CNN, will cut its total workforce by about 10 percent in the coming weeks through a mix of buyouts, layoffs and other measures, the company said Monday.

The reductions are part of a broader effort to save money and refocus investment, known internally as Turner 2020.

The company said about 1,475 positions — out of 14,000 full-time positions worldwide — would be eliminated in the coming weeks.

Within CNN Worldwide, where the workforce totals roughly 3,500, about 300 positions will be cut, according to a person with direct knowledge of the plan, totaling 8.5 percent.

CNN Worldwide includes CNN’s U.S. and International television channels; HLN; CNN Digital; and other ventures.

About 130 of the CNN reductions are being achieved through voluntary buyouts, the person said.

Simultaneously, a reporter with Channel 2 Action News in Atlanta tweeted:


So of the 1475 positions cut, over half (975) will come from Atlanta… This will happen over the next two weeks.

Stay tuned.