Former CNN anchor Brian Stelter says the demise of live programming on HLN marks the end of companionship TV in an op-ed published in The Atlantic Friday.
“The demise of HLN, CNN’s 40-year-old sister station, which will stop airing original newscasts next week, deserves attention not just because it marks the end of an era but because it’s a reminder of how eras in media actually end. Before death comes obsolescence,” Stelter wrote. “Viewers tuning in for companionship may find only the faintest echo of what once was. The TV will still be on, but all the warmth is gone.”
Though Stelter notes that “Media Winter” consistently brings layoffs and cost-cutting measures across the industry — this year that list includes CNN, who recently laid off hundreds of staffers, The Washington Post, NPR and Gannett newspaper chain — he sees cutting HLN’s live programming as “fixture of cable television [that went] belly up.”
Created by Ted Turner, HLN (Headline News, as it was formerly known) was launched in 1982, just 19 months after CNN was founded, and provided headlines and quick bursts of news throughout the day that kept up with news in a way CNN’s in-depth interviews were unable to maintain.
However, as the iPhone and Twitter snatched up the concept of short-form news, the network evolved to house talk shows hosted by the likes of Glenn Beck, Joy Behar and Drew Pinsky, among others, while Nancy Grace’s crime show launched the network into popularity.
“The ground was shifting dramatically, and HLN was trying to find a way to stay standing,” Stelter wrote. “Here’s the problem with obsolescence, though: It isn’t just the ground that shifts. It’s the whole media universe.”
As HLN found its footing, Robin Meade, weekday-morning host and the “longest-tenured morning hosts in history,” emerged as the face of the network — a figure Stelter says “TikTok’s emerging stars could learn a thing or two from” in terms of “connecting all the way through the camera lens to the person on the other side.”
“Television news, the way I see it, is about consistency and companionship,” the former “Reliable Sources” host, whose show was canceled in August, continued. “Or it was, anyway. TV journalists break big stories and speak truth to power the same way journalists in every other medium do—but the thing that sets TV apart is the relationship forged between the people on either side of the screen. Viewers form emotional bonds with the anchors they watch and stream.”
Though Stelter said no one who he spoke to at HLN seemed surprised at the announcement since “it seemed inevitable that the news on HLN would stop altogether at some point,” he lamented Meade’s substantial fan base that “your average podcast host or Substack writer could only dream of.”
“Meade’s fans are right to feel a sense of loss,” he concluded. “This strained moment for TV news has no small number of anchors and hosts questioning what they thought they knew about the medium—and how much shelf space will exist for them in the future.”