CNN is the least-watched network in primetime (see this NY Times report here). CNN is even getting beaten by HLN. HLN? I am saddened by CNN's apparent demise, though I think it is well-justified.
I'm saddened because CNN was the only place (other than PBS) that one could go to for hardcore news. I once considered myself a CNN devotee. Though CNN thinks its slide is due to the fact that it does hard news, it is sadly mistaken.
First, CNN does less hard news in primetime than either MSNBC or FOX. In fact, when I'm desperate for political news or analysis, I'm more likely to go to FOX or MSNBC as painful as those choices are for me. I could not believe the amount of airtime CNN devoted to Michael Jackson or balloon boy and other soft news stories. I think the sad truth is, whatever one may think of FOX and MSNBC they often address hardcore news issues in primetime. So, the truth of the matter is that viewers are willing to
Second, CNN's format is not very informative. They tend to have an anchor surrounded by either partisan analysts/pundits or politicos. They often mix-in with those reporters such as Candy Crowley or Joe Johns. The result is just blather. The partisans (whether pundits or politicos) just end up yelling predictable talking points at each other and whatever insights one could get from their very thoughtful reporters are just lost. Quite frankly, I find the format unwatchable.
Third, CNN has come to rely too much on gimmicks: ireporters, twitter, graphics that convey little information etc. The important exceptions here are Fareed Zakaria's GPS, the best show of television, Christiane Amanpour's Amanpour, John King's, State of the Union and to some extent, interestingly enough, Lou Dobbs (though his show is too sensationalist). The format on those shows are generally different and you actually learn something.
CNN needs to return to hard news. My prediction is that if CNN does not reverse course it will stop being the place to go for important national news such as elections.