2002-10-12 / Columnists

From the G-Man

By Gary G. Toms

From the G-Man

CNN Just Doesn't Get It

Hey people! The news giant CNN made a rather starling announcement last week regarding their anchors. A mandate was issued that in order to reach a younger audience (those ages 18-49) the anchors would start using slang terms when reporting on stories and in their daily broadcasts. It was reported that a listing of terms, such as "jiggy", "dope", and "fa shizzle" (for sure) was going to be distributed to the anchors in effort to get them up to speed on the latest street language. The "suits" at CNN are confident that this will help to increase viewership, but I am confident that the executives, and anchors, at CNN will look like a bunch of jackasses if they go through with this stupid plan.

It's bad enough that I have to look at anchors who are nothing more than plastic stick figures (with their perfectly cropped hair, clothes, and features), now I have to be subjected to some news dork, who's about as cool as Al Gore, spewing words that they don't even understand. It would be the equivalent of having Governor George Pataki host the MTV Video Music Awards. Imagine him trying to keep America's youth riveted to the show for three hours. Ah! The image is frightening. Simply put, it just wouldn't work.

Let me give you some other examples of just how asinine CNN's latest ploy is. Imagine Senator Trent Lott as the host of "Soul Train" instead of Don Cornelius. Imagine former Presidential candidate John McCain playing "George Jefferson" (of "The Jeffersons") instead of Sherman Helmsley. Imagine Martha Stewart as the lead in the 1970's cult classic "Foxy Brown" or "Cleopatra Jones." The examples are a bit extreme, but the point is clear. They just would not have worked then, and they will not work with CNN now.

I also want to know how the CNN suits determined that the majority of people in America (in this age category) spoke this way. I confess, that I use slang terms in this column from time to time. However, there is an enormous difference between using them in a weekly publication, with a circulation of 12,500 versus a major network that reaches millions. Moreover, the move by CNN is a clear illustration of the fact that they would rather stoop to such low tactics than hire diverse anchors that viewers might be able to relate to. It's the "Kung Fu" argument all over again. Remember that? If not, let me refresh your memory.

In early 1970, the late Bruce Lee pitched the hit television series to the ABC network. Lee was to be the writer, director and star of the show, but ABC was worried that he looked "too Asian." So, what did they do? The suits at ABC cut Lee out of the deal all together, and then hired a white actor, David Carradine, and had a make-up crew give him the appearance of being Chinese. Now, we fast forward to today, and CNN is doing the same thing. They don't want to hire anchors that cater to their "lost demographic," so they hand out memos and booklets to resident anchors on how they think young America speaks. Oh, but let's be honest folks. Young America in their eyes, who use these terms to a large degree, is basically people of color. They aren't fooling anyone, and they certainly aren't fooling me.

I feel the move is very insulting to CNN viewers of all races, but it is most insulting to people of color. I do not understand their need to "dumb down" journalism and their approach to presenting news stories. If CNN gets their way, a typical newscast could sound like this.

"The Man looked jiggy as he stepped off Air Force One this morning. Bush was sportin' this bangin' two-piece joint, and accentuated it with some dope Iversons. His wife Laura was chillin' in a bitchin' one-piece, open back dress from the Britney Spears collection. The first couple was getting set to crash with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his honey-dip for the weekend. Reports say that Blair's crib is slammin'."

The move makes no sense at all, and as bad as this is, here's the scariest part. It will start at CNN and eventually find its way into mainstream news.

Just because certain young people and adults speak differently does not mean that they aren't capable of understanding news issues and the stories that are presented. Instead of addressing their viewership problem in this manner, maybe the suits at CNN should consider the fact that young people aren't watching the network because they don't see anyone like them behind the anchor desk.

I'll tell you what they need to do. They need to throw somebody with some dreadlocks and a "Sean John" shirt behind the desk! Throw a woman with pink or violet hair and a nice two-piece Donna Karan suit behind the desk! Throw somebody with a pierced tongue behind the desk! Be bold, be creative, and be different! As long as they can present and discuss the issues (news) as well as Dan Rather, Connie Chung or Geraldo Rivera, that's all that matters. That's how you get younger viewers. That goes for all the stuffy networks who believe real newscasts should have "Ken and Barbie" clones (in pressed suits and hair doused with 15 cans of hairspray) who crack jokes five seconds after reporting on a tragic story.

I do have one more suggestion for CNN and other network/cable heads. There are some extremely good, young editors and journalists (of many ethnic backgrounds) working on high school, college and community newspapers. You all should implement a policy where you can make them a temporary part of the broadcasts, alongside your anchors and in the newsroom. If you don't want to pay them, then give them a credit for school or a reference for future employers in exchange for their services. That may be another way to reach younger viewers. It certain would be better than what you're considering...."fa shizzle!"

See you next week!

Note: The views expressed in this week's editorial "A Memorial For The Victims of Flight 587," do not reflect the views of Associate Editor Gary G. Toms.

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