CNN is betting John King and his magic wall can attract new viewers.

By | November 10, 2022

When CNN’s famous “Magic Wall” goes out for election coverage, it’s all hands on deck. No one knows that better than John King.

The longtime CNN reporter was left-handed; In a recent meeting at the network’s Washington office, he said; But demand for CNN’s popular interactive map was so great that he trained himself to operate a screen with both hands. . Each Finger or Wrist King, who will be working at least 14 hours on Tuesday night to cover the 2022 midterm elections, will be able to show viewers the latest results across the United States or in any particular state. “I’ve trained myself to do the Magic Wall with my right hand, so when I need a second hand, it’s my good hand,” said King, facing two different Magic Wall displays.

That’s no easy feat, but King had a childhood breakthrough when Larry King was an on-air staple and doing the wall on CNN. When he was young, his father gave him a left-handed mitt to play baseball, but warned the boy that the family did not have the money to replace the gloves. “If you lose, you’re done,” says King. “I lost it” was forced to play games using his brother’s right-hander.

The anchor needs that training. King is preparing for a wild Tuesday, which will likely see the height shift as various states adopt proposed laws on keeping mail-in ballots. In some cases, one political party may win the gubernatorial race in one state, but another wins the campaign for the Senate seat. “Having both hands equally accessible helps,” says King.

Knowing these differences is critical to King and the network he’s called home since 1997. It’s no secret that CNN has seen its overall ratings decline in recent months. In the third quarter, the network’s average total day viewers between 25 and 54 — the demographic most coveted by advertisers for news programming — fell 17%, according to Nielsen, compared to an 11% decline for MSNBC and one. 13% for Fox News Channel, the industry’s most-watched network even on election night. CNN’s new corporate parent, Warner Bros. Discovery, is hoping to forge a new connection with viewers by offering a less gritty version of the news, more colorful, passionate and even opinionated during the Trump administration under the network’s former boss, Jeff Zucker.

Mid-term elections are a natural starting point for such an effort. Cable-news viewers typically tune in after a presidential race, and the network views the midterms as a natural starting point as the race for the White House begins to take shape. The results of the midterms will throw into sharp relief how the White House, Democrats and Republicans will fare in the next two years and how the presidential candidates will be able to navigate.

King is the creator of the previous map. In less than 15 minutes, he takes a visitor to California, Rhode Island and New Hampshire to explain the dynamics of voters in each state. The cameras weren’t on, but King began his every-few-years show with renewed interest on social media and a reminder that similar contradictions can now be seen on most of the country’s TV-news channels.

It’s not enough to wave your arms and fingers around him – no matter how tame King is on live TV. Thanks to partisan media and disinformation pushed through digital and social media, audiences of different parties have different beliefs about the news they see. About 77% of Democrats and independents say they have at least some confidence in the information they get from the national news media, according to data collected by the Pew Research Center earlier this year, but only 42% of Republicans and Republicans do. the same.

That fragment can be expanded. Absentee voting means that the red and blue specters you see on King’s map at the start of the day can change overnight. “In the cycles before 2020, that was not a major part of the coverage,” said David Chalian, CNN’s vice president and political director, whose face is frequently on camera during the election cycle. “This requires explaining to our audience in real time what they see – the broken results. And we need to tell what we know that hasn’t been counted yet and how that might affect the results.”

For King, it means considering his conversation with CNN viewers. Sometimes, he has to turn his back to the audience while speaking to get the information he needs quickly. “I can be very smart,” he says, if he can access the information quickly. “I see it as a conversation, and if I turn my back on you in a conversation, I say, ‘Excuse me for a second.’ That’s what I’d do if I was in your living room or in your kitchen or wherever you look.”

It also tries to make the wall anything other than right-to-left. “People don’t like politics,” he says. “People love to travel. They love to learn about new things. So he tries to capture the experience as a journey to a new frontier. “The audience is engaged because you’re visiting their community or going somewhere they’ve never been. Where is it? Who lives there? What’s that place like?” He says he’s doing what he’s always done in his one-time career as a national political reporter for the Associated Press: “Here’s John on the road again — boom, boom, boom.”

CNN discovered the Magic Wall technology when former Washington bureau chief David Bohrman visited a military and intelligence trade show and saw it on display, developed by a company called Perceptive Pixel. The system allows Pentagon analysts to use a touch screen to chart their work in real time.

Behind the highly-researched monitors, King says, is a phalanx of manufacturers eager to make improvements that help make the information clearer to viewers. “We’re all ex-showrunners who excel at technology,” says Pallavi Reddy, senior director of new media at CNN. “Most of us don’t have computer science degrees. Our secret sauce is understanding the value of the story.

In the not-too-distant future, CNN may be able to develop an augmented-reality counterpart to the Magic Wall. Can you imagine a virtual 3-D hologram of Colorado moving across the screen so viewers can see how many Republican, Democrat or otherwise votes King? Cable-news outlets can also do more with so-called “second screen” models that take advantage of consumers’ mobile devices, he said.

But the wall is what people now understand, King says, and rushing to new technology can only serve to alienate audiences. “When I do this, I hope people believe me and I do,” King said. “If you want to change things, come with you.” Even in this charged age, where viewers are more polarizing and trusting, CNN has hope.

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