Fox News sets the tone in cable news race

The world of TV news has always been ripe for the taking. A more vibrant medium than print and even radio, it provides a dynamic space for stories to be told - and different viewpoints to be expressed. And probably no other organization has used it to its advantage better than Fox News.

The world of TV news has always been ripe for the taking. A more vibrant medium than print and even radio, it provides a dynamic space for stories to be told - and different viewpoints to be expressed. And probably no other organization has used it to its advantage better than Fox News.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this month, Fox News first came on the scene as a formidable competitor to CNN and the recently launched MSNBC. But in its decade of existence, it is safe to say that it has certainly left its mark on TV - and in particular the cable-news business.

"I think Fox News has completely reshaped the cable news landscape," says David Folkenflik, media correspondent for NPR. "It brought a highly developed and carefully tended sense of grievance to viewers looking for something different."

While the network has publicly disputed its conservative label and extolled the "fair and balanced" nature of its reporting, its beginnings were arguably very much rooted in the notion that it was serving an underserved audience - one that was looking for less liberal-infused news.

"They have very much built their name and their audience on hammering home a bunch of assumptions...that were out there," says Robert Thompson, professor of TV and popular culture at Syracuse University. One of those assumptions was that the mainstream media was flawed and its reporting unbalanced.

"Fox News' strategy is predicated in some ways on delegitimizing much of the rest of the media in terms of its perceived objectivity or neutrality," adds Folkenflik. "They cover media issues... a lot as a way of persistently offering a contrast of how they cover the news and how the rest of so-called mainstream media covers the news."

That has forced many news organizations that are labeled liberal, even those that extend beyond the cable news and even the television arena, to defend themselves and their coverage more and more, he adds.

"All of the mainstream media... are trying to grapple with how much to respond," he says.

And while Fox News was not the first 24-hour cable news network, it arguably brought an unprecedented level of competition.

"It made 24-hour cable news a real horse race, which changed the dynamics of how things worked," says Thompson. "For so long, CNN was the only game in town. If you didn't make the evening news, 24-hour cable news was CNN.

"All of a sudden, 24-hour cable... all had to start scrambling for what is a comparatively small audience," he adds. "All of a sudden, all of that competitive stuff had to start to happen."

That highly competitive nature that developed in part because of Fox's presence in the market is one reason, he says, for the endless, wall-to-wall coverage of more tabloid topics such as the Jon Benet Ramsey case, the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, and the Laci Peterson murder case.

"They all had to start playing that same game," he says.

But perhaps one of the biggest effects of Fox News' presence in the cable news game is how the network raised the importance of personality-driven programming to cable news.
For example, while Larry King was the personality of CNN long before Fox News was launched, it is probably Bill O'Reilly that set the precedent for loud-mouthed, opinionated, love-him or hate-him personalities that now dominate cable news.

In its inception, Thompson says, cable news was the place people tuned in to when there was a monumental event or national disaster. With the introduction of personalities such as O'Reilly, Fox set the example of drawing in viewers to the network on a nightly basis.

Without O'Reilly, there probably wouldn't be a Joe Scarborough or Nancy Grace. For better or worse, the face of cable news has been changed - until something bigger comes along.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.