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CNN Should Stay Fair and Balanced or It Will Fall

The fall of CNN has been precipitous, and sad to watch.

When it launched three decades ago, it was positively revolutionary. CNN's 24-hour, real-time news coverage took us to places where something important was happening around the globe -- to places and events that for decades, were but 45-second bits and bites on the evening news.

Its meteoric rise was as grand as its fall has been melancholic.

CNN came along when cable television was the powerful king of communications, and it is now crashing as the dexterous daredevil Internet establishes itself as the go-to place for, well, everything.

I have come to believe that CNN's fall is but a time-compressed version of what has happened to the once-venerable newspaper business.

Newspapers had a good ride. So, too, has CNN.

As a former print guy, who now rides out the many swells on the relative safety of the Internet, I admittedly am not the person to be offering CNN advice -- though I do know a good fall when I see one.

I still maintain, however, that CNN's troubles parallel in many ways the decline of the newspaper business.

Like most newspapers, when CNN came out of the chute it was virtuous and high-minded, and maybe more important, was just about the only game in town.

It is possible CNN held too tightly to its roots. The station's serious, straight-down-the-middle reporting on the big issues of the day were noble, but are now being eviscerated by the streaming noise and opinion pouring forth from seemingly everywhere.

CNN is like the old guy at the cocktail party who is smarter than everybody else in the room, but can't get a word in edgewise because he is drowned out and ignored by all the drunken hot-shots who are only interested in doling out their watered-down blather.

Newspapers, too, underestimated the changing news landscape and are now frantically trying to re-invent themselves. Of course, newspapers' problems are even more desperate given their need to produce and deliver a print report each day to keep some sort of financial stability -- even if that report is too often stuffed with old news from far-off places.

Like newspapers, CNN generally delivers its news with the same serious tone it has in the past. These days you have to do better than that, though -- and do it really, really fast, and with plenty of sass and attitude.

I am not advocating for a single minute that the station adopt the fast and loose ways of Fox and MSNBC, and load itself up with a bunch of partisan roof-screamers.

No doubt, given its supersonic ratings, Fox, especially, is doing something right [sorry], but providing an atmosphere where "fair and balanced" news can be cultivated is certainly not one of them.

Ditto, MSNBC, though their necks must be sore from looking up at the capacious Fox media palace they so desperately want their one-story ranch house to emulate.

CNN would be making a disastrous mistake if its recent hiring of Erick Erickson is a tip-off toward some rocky future course it is charting. That hiring just looks really desperate and raunchy. Besides, there's only room for so much hot air on these cable-news stations -- er, isn't there?

So what if CNN softened its approach just a bit, and reclaimed control of the message -- namely, that whole fair-and-balanced thing?

What if CNN had a bit of fun and made light of the shameless political posturing of its two more ratings-rich cable-news neighbors? Maybe even corrected them for the record, borrowing from the often dead-on shtick of Jon Stewart?

What if the station opened its dwindling bank accounts wide, and went after a couple of the truly fair-and-balanced news anchors at MSNBC and Fox, who must wonder when the walls from the right and left will collapse upon careers they likely hoped at some point would be virtuous and honorable?

What if, CNN?

Do those three things, and then go out with a loud-and-proud marketing campaign that politely hollers that if you really want the straight dope, and if you really want to be the most informed person at the cocktail party, tune into CNN. Then again, if you aren't brave enough, and can't handle both sides of the story, our competition has filled the well with all the shallow water you could possibly drink.

(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)