by Amber Parker
“Ratings, Revenue and Reputation . . . [are] ingredients for a bottom line franchise,” said Soledad O’Brien in her discussion on diversity with University of Alabama students Nov. 9. Because much of the internationally known journalist’s recognition comes from CNN’s “In America” documentary series, I wonder: How much do people care about topics surrounding minority groups? How have they impacted CNN? How have they impacted O’Brien? And most of all, how have they impacted the “bottom line”?
The “In America” Series started in 2008 with Black in America. The two-part documentary focused on exposing disparities in education, the prison system and single parenthood, as well as the toll that HIV/AIDs has had on communities. In July of the same year, the documentary garnered approximately 2.6 million viewers. Black in America 2 aired in the summer of 2009 with a less impressive 1.4 million viewers, yet it still managed to outperform other cable documentaries from all other networks that year. It is safe to say that the “In America” series started off strong, piquing national interest in areas that had received limited coverage prior to these exposés.
However, the ratings really began to drop when “Latino in America” aired in 2010. According to a Huffington Post article, it “drew an average of 1,007,000 total viewers and 293,000 A25-54 viewers. That’s down 45% in total viewers from the debut episode of July’s ‘Black in America’.” Based on these numbers, one has to wonder if stories like these have fleeting appeal.
It is unclear how much money CNN makes from O’Brien’s documentaries or how much money she generates personally. But it is clear that high ratings do correlate with the amount of revenue amassed by the network and, in turn, the individual.
The following is a list of O’Brien’s most recent work: “Don’t Fail Me: Education in America,” “The Women Who Would be Queen,” “Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door,” “Pictures Don’t Lie,” “Almighty Debt,” “Rescued” and “Gary and Tony Have a Baby.” Each of these relates to concerns of minority groups, with topics ranging from homosexuality to religious acceptance. Since 9/11, O’Brien has provided in-depth coverage of a wide range of underrepresented groups, ultimately earning the respect of her peers and even her critics.
“For me it’s about the story, it’s about telling the stories of amazing people all across this great country and the world,” O’Brien said.
This journalist has used stories to catapult herself as a trustworthy source in the sphere of journalism. In early 2012, she will return to CNN’s “American Mornings” as an anchor. After years of rotating hosts for the morning talk show due to poor ratings, the producers decided to take a shot with O’Brien. I am sure CNNhopes her reputation will help to turn the show around and eventually bring both ratings and revenue to CNN.
During a reception prior to her speech, she expressed her excitement about returning to daily news. She hopes that she can bring new perspective to the show by continuing to tell the stories of the world’s underrepresented people every day.
If CNN’s producers are right this time, O’Brien’s return will prove that of the three Rs, reputation is the most important.