It's been a year since we broke the news about 9TV's rebranding to CNN Philippines, and since then, a lot has happened. In a moment of major upheaval at the network, Jing Magsaysay resigned from his post as senior vice president for news and current affairs, with other members of his management team to follow suit.
So far, in the six month since the network started airing, CNN Philippines remains where it was a year ago, lagging behind the juggernauts, ABS-CBN News Channel and GMA NewsTV, in total viewership and advertising revenue. Perhaps more troubling, the network remains consistently out of the daily conversation, leaving most of the headlines and big news stories to the mainstream networks.
As CNN Philippines about to press the reset button, one can't help but wonder why the network failed to gain traction. Apparently, to no one's surprise, the lack of strong leadership and complacency, not to mention misguided priorities, doomed the network's chances from the start.
Between CNN President Jeff Zucker's statement that they will "provide first-class news and information to millions of Filipinos," and Jing Magsaysay's assertion that the "news should be about the news not the messenger," one could be forgiven for believing CNN Philippines would be like any of the international CNN channels.
CNN has always been known all around the globe for its expansive news coverage. When there is breaking news and wherever the news is, viewers would likely turn to CNN than any other news channels.
But CNN Philippines isn't anything remotely close to the CNN branding. It doesn't really devote more time in covering breaking news as, let's say, GMA NewsTV or ANC. It just simply became a network that mirrors its former self — 9TV, where breaking news coverage were often disregarded in favor of non-news programs and lifestyle shows.
"You would expect them to be preempting their regular programming in July when there was a commotion outside the Manalo residence but they had zero coverage that night," observes a news producer from a rival network. "ANC and Saksi [GMA-7's late-night newscast], by comparison covered it live. That was exactly the kind of coverage you would expect from CNN Philippines pero wala."
The CNN brand itself was supposed to breathe a new life into the already ailing channel 9, and the network has all the resources, technology, manpower and support it needed to produce results. Fair or not, the consensus among our readers and media watchers is that CNN Philippines has failed to live up to some reasonable expectations.
At some point, we should all get tired of questioning the previous management's apparent entertainers-over-journalists priorities. It has been clear from the get go that they didn't believe that viewers really want to get their news from the right messengers.
How long have we been talking about their anchor lineup? How long have we been pointing out that to be a respected newsperson, one has to do more than just teleprompter reading?
Contrast CNN Philippines' decision to hire non-journalists to anchor some of their newscasts, and well-known celebrities to host their new program lineup — which now includes a daily talk show — to ANC's decision to recruit some highly-skilled professional journalists, namely, Christian Esguerra, Nancy Irlanda and Cathy Yang.
In a sense, CNNP believes in the culture we now live in where journalistic training is no longer that important, while Ging Reyes, Cilette Liboro-Co and Nadia Trinidad of ANC, clearly believe in meritocracy, where people are being selected based on their merits, training and skills above anything else.
"I am appalled that some wannabe journalists are still there when there has been no improvement in their reports from day 1," says a former staffer, who asked not to be identified. "Even after the training with CNN reporters like Anna Coren, there's still no improvement!"
The truth is, CNN Philippines still has a fine roster of news anchors composed of Pia Hontiveros, Claire Celdran, Amelyn Veloso and Mai Rodriguez; and a tenacious lineup of reporters like David Santos, Anna Estanislao and Ina Andolong. We're also not arguing with the fact that Roanna Jamir has consistently exceeded those expectations viewers and her colleagues have for her, with her can-do attitude and strong work ethic. But CNN Philippines has yet to really become a place where journalists are being rewarded.
"If there is such a thing as 'cleaning' happening in the network, it should be implemented on all the ranks," says the former staffer. "They shouldn't just replace the bosses and anchors but the non-effective field reporters as well. The network will do better if they hire those who actually have a nose for news and stop getting newsreaders to the jobs of reporters."
Inside the CNN Philippines newsroom, word is that Armie Jarin-Bennett, an Emmy award-winning Filipino news executive from CNN Asia Pacific, will soon be joining the new management team. Network News anchor Pia Hontiveros is also said to be playing a more prominent role under the new administration, and has already been tasked to help oversee the news production.
Regardless of who will take charge of CNN Philippines, they might have to seriously consider changing their strategy and initiate some changes to reshape the network. They should, of course, consider retooling their local programming, getting more legitimate journalists to join their team, and most importantly, improve the quality of their reporting.
Maybe then we can finally say that CNN Philippines is heading right back to where Solar News really started — back in the news business.
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Artworks by Kevin Trinidad