In today's political climate, the idea of a non-partisan "unbiased" cable newscast seemed refreshing for consumers. NewsNation, a Nexstar production, wanted to fill that void as a stark alternative to the partisan-leaning political programming across Fox, MSNBC, and CNN.
NewsNation's post-launch ratings painted a grim picture of the company. As Business of Business previously reported, the show brought in 133,000 viewers; from an available 75 million households.
Earlier this month, the network brought in Ashleigh Banfield, a well-respected journalist who has anchored for CNN, MSNBC, and CourtTV. Banfield launched a late night talk show, mirroring that of broadcast legend Larry King, interviewing revered guests from Aaron Sorkin to Bryan Cranston. That didn’t seem to move the needle.
Viewership remains shockingly low. As the Wrap reported, the show’s launch only drew in 37,000 pairs of eyes. It gets worse. According to FTVLive, an industry trade publication, Banfield pulled in only 8,000 in the demo on March 11. FTV also points out that NewsNation's 9 PM newscast that same evening pulled in only 2,000.
For context, according to Nexstar’s Linkedin employee headcount, more people work at the company than tuned in for that newscast.
NewsNation was part of WGN America before it shifted its moniker to reflect a new identity. WGN is owned by Nexstar, one of the largest operators of local news stations across the country. NewsNation features local stories across its 110 stations. The Chicago-based NewsNation has branded itself in line with middle America's values.
“NewsNation’s mission is to provide news based on facts, not opinions. In fact, Ad Fontes Media, an independent organization that rates news outlets for objectivity and fairness, recently recognized NewsNation for its news value, reliability, and for leaning neither left nor right, but delivering news right down the middle,” Gary Weitman, Executive Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Nexstar Media Group, says.
There is continuing evidence to the contrary, especially following a New York Times report earlier this month showing that journalists at NewsNation are taking note of the channel's increasing partisan lean. Reportedly this was because the network “has increasingly become a venue for right-wing views.”
That was evident early on with two notable hires— Bill Shine and Sean Compton. Former Fox News Co-President Bill Shine was hired by Nexstar to consult for NewsNation. Shine served in the Trump Administration as a White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications, making him a partisan voice on a network that promised non-partisanship.
Sean Compton is the President of Nexstar’s Network group and was a leading voice behind the launch of NewsNation. Previously, Compton had a successful record in conservative media. Through his career he helped catapult Sean Hannity to national stardom and even worked on directly with former President Donald Trump on a syndicated radio show called “Trumped.”
Recent programming decisions only echoed their backgrounds. Not long into their on-air tenure, anchor Joe Donlon conducted an interview with former President Donald Trump which has widely been considered a softball.
According to the Times, that was enough for the managing editor and news director to resign.
It's possible NewsNation's mission has been addressed and absorbed by the existing forces in news programming. CBS, ABC, and NBC all launched non-partisan streaming news networks in recent years as an alternative to their broadcast channels. Streaming channels like Cheddar and Newsy also tout their non-partisanship.
The company stands by their mission statement and maintains that NewsNation is offering viewers something unique. "Consistent with our commitment to deliver unbiased news to our viewers, NewsNation has hired a number of employees and consultants with diverse news production and reporting backgrounds from a variety of news organizations such as CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business, CBS, NBC and ABC," Weitman adds. "The staff also reflects a diversity of viewpoints, which they are encouraged to express. All of these news professionals have the best-in-class expertise to enable NewsNation to drive forward and continue fulfilling its mission of providing high-quality, unbiased, fact-driven news."
It’s not just TV that’s flopping. It’s Facebook, too. According to Thinknum data, the number of followers on NewsNation Now’s Facebook page has decreased by about 11,000 since November.
By taking a right-leaning stance, NewsNation is entering a very saturated marketplace. Fox has been met with newer cable alternatives like NewsMax and OAN, which leans even further into a right-wing hyper-partisan echo chamber. The space is only growing. In February, Al Jazeera announced their new platform Rightly, which targets conservatives.
Unsurprisingly, Fox News in particular is the force to be reckoned with, both over the air and online. Fox programs consistently trump their competitors. According to Nielsen, FNC was the top-rated network in February. Fox is also regularly featured on Facebook’s top 10 list for top-performing link posts.
NewsNation remains optimistic that their ratings will grow. “We are looking forward to NewsNation’s continued success as more viewers become familiar with the network,” Weitman says.
About the Data:
Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online, jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings, and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.