But from CNN’s perspective, a pundits-on-panels model offers several benefits. To start with, it’s cost effective. On-the-ground reporting requires expensive crews, satellite trucks and travel. With far less effort, news executives can present polarized, high-drama debates that spike viewers’ outrage and short-term ratings. Most of that recent drama was centered on Donald J. Trump, who, during the early months of the campaign, got coverage from CNN that dwarfed that of the other 16 Republican contenders.
All this was about one thing, and it’s not better journalism. It’s bigger profits. Insiders have reported that CNN made more than $1 billion gross profit in 2016, at least $100 million more than the company projected.
While CNN made its numbers, it missed the story. After the election, CNN’s own media critic, Brian Stelter, rightly told the audience, “Some of you watching right now are having a very hard time trusting this channel.” And yet Time Warner’s chief executive declared 2016 a “killer year” for CNN.