FOX News Channel launched 20 years ago: A brief history of FOX News, from newsreel team to cable’s No. 1 news network




June 5, 1989, BEIJING – Around the world, the image of a man staring down tanks in China’s Tiananmen Square became etched in our collective memory. The live CNN broadcast was a journalism milestone. Like any competitive newsman, Rupert Murdoch marveled at the accomplishment but must have been rankled by his rival’s success in breaking the story.

Cable news was itself shaping a narrative in progress. Media was changing culture. And News Corp wanted to be a leader in this latest revolution.

FOX News Channel (FNC) ultimately launched in 1996, but its namesake originated nearly 80 years earlier. On Oct. 4, 1919, the first FOX News was a newsreel team established by Winfield Sheehan, general manager of the early Fox Film Corporation, with “director-in-chief” Don Hancock overseeing some 1,008 dispersed cameramen by 1922. Their mission statement promised “honesty, impartiality, enterprise and entertainment.”

By the early 1960s, network news anchors became nightly fixtures in American homes. Ted Turner’s 24-hour Cable News Network (CNN) launched in 1980. News Corp brought Europe its first 24-hour news channel, Sky News, on Feb. 5, 1989.

21CF Execuutive Chairman Rupert Murdoch, pictured here at a press conference shortly before the launch of FOX News.

FOX News was designed to be an anti-elitist disruption to a perceived bias in U.S. television. Time’s John Moody came on as senior news executive and Bill Shine oversaw “opinion hosts” like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity.

The triumph of FOX News lies in how often it has driven the national narrative. In 2002, FNC surpassed CNN as the cable news leader; it has ranked No. 1 in total viewership for 14 consecutive years. With an annual profit exceeding $1 billion, FNC – more than any other cable news network – has figured out how to wield the instrument of television.

The network celebrates its 20th anniversary on Oct. 7, 2016. The moment coincides with an unprecedented inflection point brought on by the presidential election and primary season, during which FOX News made history with the highest-rated non-sports cable telecast of all time.

“FOX News came from a point of view of we can do this better,” said 21st Century Fox Executive Chairman Lachlan Murdoch. “We can make news more interesting. We can tell stories better. We can tell them with more energy and more color. That’s really how FOX News started. Not because a group of analysts in a secret room somewhere found a niche in the market.”

In July 2016, Rupert Murdoch took the helm at FOX News and elevated longtime executives Bill Shine and Jack Abernethy to co-presidents of the network, and promoted Suzanne Scott to executive vice president of programming and development.

“While this has been a time of great transition,” Rupert said, “there has never been a greater opportunity for FOX News and FOX Business to better serve and expand their audiences.”