NBC’s meaningless spanking of MSNBC

As if to punctuate my previous post, David Brauder writes for the Associated Press (via TVNewsday) that Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews are out as anchors of MSNBC’s election night coverage. “The change reflects tensions between the freewheeling, opinionated MSNBC and the impartial newsgatherers at NBC News,” Brauder wrote.

“Impartial?” Sigh.

The tipping point appears to have come during the Republican convention when Olbermann, after the network aired a Sept. 11-themed video prepared by the Republicans, said that MSNBC should not have shown it.

MSNBC executives, who had publicly defended their anchors’ roles while privately monitoring it throughout the political season, made the change over the weekend after discussions with Olbermann. Despite the controversy around him, Olbermann has been a hero with left-leaning viewers and keyed MSNBC’s growth among coveted young viewers.

MSNBC is a disruptive innovation seeking its own place in the media universe. It’s sad that the network was taken out behind the woodshed in such a public way by Mama NBC, but it reveals the most critical danger of tying an innovation to Mama’s brand. What G.E. ought to do is give MSNBC its freedom and the authority to kill its Mama, if it can (Hey, this is straight out of Clayton Christensen’s work. What NBC faces with MSNBC is, after all, The Innovator’s Dilemma!).

MSNBC is nature’s counterweight to Fox News, and that weight has been damaged by Mama NBC. If NBC wishes to market itself as impartial, that’s fine, but shortening the leash on MSNBC only helps the suits at 30 Rock feel a little better. “Cough, cough. We, ah, cough, cough, can’t, um, cough, cough, be associated with, um, cough, cough, anything like, ah, cough, cough, THAT!” And if NBC thinks this move is actually going to quiet a disgruntled constituency (The crowd shouted “NBC, NBC” when Governor Palin spoke of the media élite at the Republican convention), they’re not only unwise but naïve.

Welcome to the reinvention of journalism, kids.

(Howard Kurtz, Washington Post | Brian Stelter, New York Times)

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