This Is CNN
By Ronnie Lovler
A few weeks ago, I needed a brief respite from 2020. No need to share my litany of complaints — you live in the same world that I do. I desperately needed a break from our domestic and global headaches and heartaches.
I got lucky –with an invitation to participate in a virtual CNN 40th anniversary reunion and see faces and connect with people from my past. We were able to laugh and joke and reminisce a bit about the old days when there was no such thing as fake news because the news was the news, and that’s all there was to it.
I received a notification from a former colleague in a CNN Facebook group about the event.
A group of CNN alumni had come together to organize what became a 90-minute gathering of past and present CNN family. The show was being produced by Alumni Volunteers, self-described as a group “with good intentions and no budget.” It was an unofficial, informal event.
As a former CNN journalist, I was invited. My response was immediate — count me in! I also volunteered to host one of the breakout rooms if need be.
Two nights before the main event, I went to a meeting with more than 60 other people with whom I share CNN ties. We were the ones who had signed up to host the breakout rooms after the main session so people could get together in smaller groups to chat with former co-workers from specific CNN entities like CNN Español, CNN International, the International Desk, and others.
The organizers told us that based on registration numbers, they expected hundreds of people to show up. Nobody was sure how it would work. As one producer said, “it could end up being the biggest clusterf**k ever.” But it wasn’t.
There was a game plan. There was an open. There was a rundown. And if there was a “live” mistake, these folks would know to handle it. The organizers included a cast of former executive producers and highly skilled journalists and technicians who had produced countless live news events in the past, sometimes with very little notice, because the news doesn’t always give you notice.
I knew it would work. This intrepid group of volunteers with ties to CNN transformed their affection for days gone by into a Zoom plan for the present.
When I joined CNN, it was under the direction of founder Ted Turner who insisted, “The news was the star of the show” not a particular anchor. He also stipulated that the word “foreign” would have no place in how we packaged the news, with “international” leading the way.
It was a thrill back then to be part of the “little network that could.” The journalists at the Big Three, ABC, NBC, and CBS, derisively labeled us the “Chicken Noodle News.” Until they learned better. And we learned better, too.
CNN went on air on June 1, 1980. I became a part of CNN, as a freelance reporter in El Salvador in 1987, then moved on to be a correspondent in Latin America. In 1996, I returned to the United States and worked as a writer and producer at CNN International until 2000
In the end, more than 600 people were on the Zoom link for our anniversary event on June 24. Zoom even facilitated accounts for those who didn’t have one. There were at least 25 Zoom pages with 25 little postage size images to flip through and admittedly many of us multi-tasked, spending our time scrolling through the faces on Zoom while the main show went on. That was expected. It was after all, a reunion. If it had been an in-person event, we would have been roaming the room making connections.
But if it had been in-person, there would have been many fewer of us at the event, which had been planned for the National Press Club in Washington, DC. before the coronavirus took over our world and our social lives. We might have had flights to arrange, hotels to book, schedules to revamp. With Zoom, all we had to do was click on the link, from the comfort of wherever we happened to be.
It was a “private” meeting so I will keep the details vague but share enough so you can envy those of us who were there for what we had that night.
The program kicked off with an appearance from correspondent Richard Roth, who started with the network when it launched in 1980 and is still on the job. We heard from the original team of anchors who were on the CNN set in its first home in a defunct country club on Techwood Drive in midtown Atlanta. The indomitable Bernard Shaw spoke for a few minutes. Those in the Zoom audience included Katie Couric, who got her start in journalism with CNN.
Zoom made it possible to bring people together from all over the world —from Singapore, Beijing, Manila, Bangkok, Berlin, London, Buenos Aires and more — as well as from different time zones from all over the United States. In person, we would have ended up being very U.S. East Coast centric, not necessarily a bad thing but certainly not as diverse.
I spent time in the breakout rooms for CNN Español and CNN International. Others packed into the Zoom room to hear from former CNN correspondent Maria Ressa, who is appealing a prison sentence in the Philippines for “cyberlibel” for the work she has done on Rappler, the website she co-founded, and which needs our support.
I “saw” old friends, exchanged email addresses and phone numbers with a couple of former colleagues and learned about at least one project to keep Ted Turner’s name and legacy alive. Frank Sesno, a former CNNer now at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, is leading the way to establish The Ted Turner Endowment there. If you’re so inclined the password is, not surprisingly, turner — shared here with Sesno’s OK.
I ended the evening abuzz with excitement and a wonderful sense of connection. I felt like those of us who passed through the halls of CNN really are family, a dysfunctional family perhaps, but family. I doubt that there is any other network that has the sense of connection that we do — even as most of us have gone on to other things.
And yes, we are hoping to get together again for a 41st anniversary celebration, COVID permitting in person, but if not, Zoom will do us just fine.