Written by 3:02 pm News

Some thoughts, and thanks, on CNN Digital at 25 years

On the 25th anniversary of the launch of CNN Digital, I’d like to share a bit about how we work, some words of thanks and optimism in the face of what some delicately call “headwinds.”

The past week provides a good example. The Republican National Convention. The shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the subsequent violence, boycotts and calls for justice. The devastation of Hurricane Laura and the California wildfires. The too early and soul-crushing death of Chadwick Boseman. And the aftermath of a Russian opposition leader’s suspected poisoning. All against the backdrop of a global pandemic, with case and death rates rising and falling, with a worldwide race for vaccines and with changing, inconsistent guidance for Americans.

A global team of journalists produced hundreds of stories in text, video, photos and graphics. They worked together 24-7 to publish accurate and live updates, to keep homepages up to the moment on mobile web, our apps and desktop. They sent alerts and newsletters, created podcasts, updated social feeds and connected with audiences. Just like always. But busier.

So it’s been a week.

And a wild 25 years.

I’ve worked in digital journalism from the start of it all in the mid ’90s. In those days there was enthusiasm around the promises of the internet: New voices and ideas will be elevated, more dialogue will be fostered across borders, creative innovation will help spread information and knowledge. Some of that has been realized.

But there are sinister elements these days. Bad actors and trolls who use the internet to spread lies, fear and hate. We see it spread on social platforms CNN has had a presence on for years. We see misinformation flourish in those places and ask if the energy we put into sharing our work on those platforms is a futile act. Is journalism just fodder for algorithms that thrive off outrage and division?

Which way is this going to go? Will the better angels or the demons prevail? Even on CNN.com’s launch day in 1995, there was a fear of “multimedia hell” right there on the homepage, linking to a story warning about the loss of privacy and the threat of anarchy.

There is real reason for optimism. There is journalism to be done, audiences who want it, and talented people to do it.

About those talented people…

My favorite part of the day is when our digital team of journalists gathers at 8 a.m. ET with a global video call. There are echoes of old-school news meetings where top editors share story pitches for the most important and compelling news of day. But woven throughout those pitches is a discussion about the people who come to CNN. Where are they spending time with us? What are they curious to learn? What questions remain to be answered? It’s one thing to be big, it’s another to be engaging. That’s where our focus is. We use data to inform the human process of journalism.

We used to pack side-by-side in cluttered newsrooms in Atlanta, New York, DC, Los Angeles, London and Hong Kong. These days we have been scattered and separated. Yet in some ways we are even more united on the visually level playing field of video calls. We have carried on with the work we get to do in these remarkable times. We make time to celebrate birthdays and babies, to welcome new team members, to play music, have trivia nights and happy hours. Camaraderie matters most in busy news cycles and tough times.

One of CNN’s strengths through the years has been our ability to deliver news from all over the world, from all of CNN’s journalists. Our users have benefited from years of watching the biggest moments from our air, hearing from people like Don Lemon and Sanjay Gupta in audio, watching Anderson Cooper’s Full Circle streaming show, subscribing to Brian Stelter’s newsletter, exploring visual enterprise reporting from Nima Elbagir and reading and watching stories from around the world that draw on deep expertise across the entire organization.
Happy birthday, CNN.com!
Digital has gone from the corner to the center. That’s a transition I’ve seen in the decade I’ve been at CNN, and throughout my career. My first job was at another trusted brand — NYTimes.com. I remember knowing then that CNN.com had been on the World Wide Web months before NYT had. I observed CNN.com closely, watching how fast they updated, how they were innovating early on. I wondered about the people who worked there. How were they going about the job of creating a new approach to journalism on a new platform from inside an established news brand?

I’ve since had the chance to get to know many of those original CNN “dot-commers.” We are strong today because of what they started. To them, and all the alumni of CNN Digital, thank you.

Where will the next 25 years take us? There are more signs of optimism in the trajectory so far. The trust people have in CNN. The time they spend with us every day and the many ways they seek us out.

The deep interest we see every day for accurate, compelling and timely journalism that captures moments, elevates diverse voices and ideas, and holds power accountable by investigating, fact checking and staying on the beat.

And the best cause for optimism: the people who work here. Our committed journalists. The talented teams of developers, engineers, product managers, data scientists and audience development experts, constantly iterating and innovating. Thanks to them and all of our partners across the business.

That’s a pretty strong foundation to build on for the coming months, years and decades.

I wrote to the team this past Friday after a long, newsy week: “What incredible times we are living in. I’m grateful to each of you, grateful we get to do this work in this moment for millions of people every day, together.”

On behalf of all of us here, I want to extend that gratitude to each person who gives us their time and their trust.

Cheers to the next 25 years.

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