CNN President On The Fonts Rita Needs

Earlier this week, Public Eye looked at the fine line broadcast journalists walk when covering stories that could be dangerous to the public -- like hurricanes. When does news coverage go over the line and become hype, alarmist or crass ratings plays? When does lack of coverage become a disservice? Over the years, for example, CBS News, along with the other networks, has occasionally been accused of overkill in covering storms that eventually petered out.

In that light, an e-mail that Jonathan Klein, the president of CNN/US sent to several staffers about the graphics to be used during coverage of Hurricane Rita may be of interest.


Klein wrote:
The term CATEGORY 4=viewership. (Everbody knows the cateogires [sic] after Katrina)

We need to put it on the screen all the time (in addition to radar).

Before it becomes cat 4. PREDICTION: RITA CATEGORY 4.

Could replace the generic "Hurricane Rita" lower-third banner. Or better still we could flash the status top left where we put "New Video" in the same large font.

Mike, can your guys design something arresting? Wil and David, pls figure out something for tonight in the meantime.

The sentence, "The term CATEGORY 4 =viewership" may strike some as on hypish side of programming instructions. But Klein doesn't think so at all and says he was trying to make sure CNN used language that would properly inform his audience that Hurricane Rita was a big, dangerous storm.

"In the wake of Katrina," Klein told me, "the public became highly aware of the distinctions between categories. They know that a Category 4 is an especially strong hurricane." He wanted the CNN audience to have that information clearly and forcefully, and so he told his staff, "let's make sure to use that term and use it constantly." He says using that precise term -- Category 4 -- was the best way, post-Katrina, "to indicate to the viewer that is important."

Klein also said he "sent it from my Blackberry as I was driving" (come on, Jon, safety first) and that he wasn't as precise or complete with his language as he would have been otherwise.

And he noted, "When everyone is covering the same story, it makes a huge difference how you cover it."

What do you think?