Lessons learned from CNN’s Flight 370 coverage

For more than two weeks, the world has been enthralled by the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, and speculation has been nonstop. Media outlets have spent countless hours of airtime on the topic with complete disregard for the fact that the trickle of reportable information was incredibly slow.

CNN is a prime example, as it continually filled its newscasts with speculation. Discussions included the possibility of black holes, the fictional television show “LOST,” and the Bermuda Triangle. There was even a segment where CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer described the dimensions and appearance of a Boeing 777. Therein lies the problem. CNN’s speculative, sensationalist coverage of the missing flight is emblematic of all that is wrong with media outlets prioritizing ratings over journalistic integrity.

The coverage of Flight 370, which took a great deal of airtime away from important international events such as the Ukraine crisis and the protests in Venezuela and Turkey, makes it increasingly apparent that even highly reputable media organizations will fill airtime with wild speculation rather than provide the public with actually relevant global and domestic news if it improves their ratings.

CNN’s coverage in particular also serves as a testament to the trappings of running a 24-hour-a-day news network. Even when the flow of information stalls, the need for programming remains.

In the absence of vital information, networks are forced to resort to the lame tactics employed by CNN.

The Flight 370 debacle calls into question the viability of a 24-hour news network. While CNN has been around for over 30 years now, critics have vocally noted the decline of quality programming on the channel in recent years. We should not accept the media presenting conspiracy theories and B-roll footage of grieving families as news because they have nothing substantive to report.

The current media climate necessitates innovation and adaptation to remain relevant. While a constant stream of reliable news sounds like a great idea in theory, in practice it is extremely difficult to execute. Instead, CNN could separate itself from the pack by focusing on journalism that is timely and founded in factual evidence.

The scramble for ratings also is a major factor in determining what gets covered and how it is reported. This particular story elicited intense interest from people across the globe. Consequently, CNN was willing to air anything tangentially related to the missing flight. It was just giving the people what they wanted, for better or for worse.

If we can’t rely on CNN, once a bastion of hard-hitting journalism, for quality news coverage, we are in serious trouble. Especially in the midst of tragedy, quality reporting is as necessary as ever.