The pressure is coming from two fronts. On the one side, global competitors and social media are increasingly preempting CNN’s bread-and-butter international reporting. Gone are the days when the network was the first, last, and only word from Mogadishu to Kosovo. Now it has to fight for scoops not only with the likes of Al-Jazeera but with the likes of Sohaib Athar, the Pakistani IT consultant who live-blogged the bin Laden raid from his apartment in Abbottabad just a few blocks away. Both the stillborn Green Revolution in Iran and the stunted Arab Spring were conceived on Facebook, chronicled on Twitter, and memorialized on YouTube. Sure, CNN was still in Tahrir Square and on the streets of Benghazi. But this time it was redundant.
On the other side, there is broad agreement among the media smart set that CNN suffers mightily for its lack of opinion-driven analysis, and of the compelling personalities needed to deliver it. Contrast with Fox News and, to an adorably smaller extent, MSNBC. What one might call the Op-Ed Turn in cable news reflects both philosophical and practical considerations. Philosophically, it reflects a move away from the mid-20th-century news-media fiction that unacknowledged bias is the same as objectivity and toward a paradigm in which transparency in prejudice is de rigueur. Practically, it reflects the theory that when news is light, ideological sparring helps pass the time.
CNN instead passes the time by punctuating the hard news with the transparently tacky.