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MSNBC Doubles Down On Its Commitment To Hard News

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(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

If you believe what President Trump says, then you might think MSNBC was on the verge of collapse, with dangerously low ratings as viewers reject the network’s biased “fake news” stories intended to damage the president. “Really dishonest,” Trump said of MSNBC back in February, saying that just like most Americans, he “seldom, if ever” watches the network.

That’s not how MSNBC president Phil Griffin describes his network. This afternoon, MSNBC will debut a new image video called “Busy News Day,” which features striking black-and-white photos of MSNBC and NBC News journalists at work, including high profile correspondents like Kelly O’Donnell, Kristen Welker and Peter Alexander at the White House, Pete Williams at the Supreme Court, and Kasie Hunt at the Capitol. But other reporters appear as well, including Mariana Atencio at the border and Courtney Kube at the Pentagon, in keeping with an editorial shift to hard news that the network began when Andy Lack returned back in 2015.

The new image spot–part of a series known inside NBC as “Journalism with a Capital J”– debuts at 4 p.m. ET, and represents MSNBC doubling down on its commitment to hard news. A graphic in the video reads “behind every story is the team that breaks it.” And it’s the team that’s showcased, not the stars. Unlike previous iterations of the image campaign, which highlighted stars like Andrea Mitchell, Brian Williams and Lawrence O’Donnell, none of the network’s prime-time hosts gets face time here (though their voices are heard introducing breaking news and exclusive reports). The new spot puts the focus on young reporters in shirtsleeves and on cell phones, running down stories in Washington and across the country.

The network has over the last two years elevated reporters like Hallie Jackson and Katy Tur, who earned attention with relentless coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign. The network hopes to reinforce the connection between the hard political and breaking news coverage seen each night on NBC’s flagship NBC Nightly News with MSNBC around the clock. Far from 2015, when NBC and MSNBC seemed like siblings who weren’t on speaking terms, today reporting is seamless. When news breaks and a correspondent appears on NBC with Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, that same correspondent will continue reporting the story on MSNBC.

Far from 2015, when the divide between NBC News and MSNBC was wide, today journalists join Lester Holt for a live report on NBC and continue analysis and reporting all day on MSNBC, right up to Brian Williams and The 11th Hour, where MSNBC established a beachhead for live political reporting in late night–quickly followed by Fox News Channel.

“We made a strategic decision three years ago to focus on breaking news during the day and to strengthen our partnership with NBC News,” Griffin told me by email. “That’s paid off in a big way. We’ve had more exclusives, better coverage overall and record ratings in dayside.”

Far from failing and driving away viewers, MSNBC has experienced some of the strongest ratings growth in the network’s history. In the second quarter of 2018, Nielsen reported MSNBC as the only cable news network to grow its audience during daytime (+8%) while Fox News (-16%) and CNN (-27%) experienced losses.

In dayside, MSNBC averaged 921,000 total viewers, beating CNN by 200,000 viewers and marking the fourth quarter in a row that MSNBC had beaten CNN among total viewers during daytime–the network finished the quarter as the second most-watched network in daytime, moving ahead of Nickelodeon and CNN. In 2017, MSNBC was ranked fourth. Fox News Channel remains number one, leading all of basic cable as the most-watched network–for 66 consecutive quarters.

The new MSNBC spot will air on of the network’s daily shows, but appears first today on Deadline: White House with Nicolle Wallace.

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