CNN News Group changed the face of news. But that was 25 years ago. What do they have planned for the next quarter-century?Anderson Cooper is talking about Sri Lanka. Soon after the tsunami hit in December, he jetted to the island and started sending news reports back home, video from his cameraman augmented by footage the CNN anchor shot with his hand-held digicam. "We were at this one village," Cooper recalls, "and my cameraman was off shooting something when a kid came up to me and started talking. So I followed him around with my camera. He went to the ocean, threw some stones at the sea, and talked about how his family had been wiped out. Those images led off the story. That little boy became the voice of that piece."
Cooper admits the quality of his video wasn't good, but he thinks its very shakiness lent an authenticity to his reporting that a slicker presentation would have lacked. It also conveyed an immediacy that Cooper embraces. "I want to strip away the wall between the viewer and the subject, take away as much of the artifice of news as I can, get rid of that blow-dried/makeup/pretty-hair nature of talking heads on television," he says. "I want to bring the viewer into that place. A home camera is a great way to do that. For some of my stand-ups, I just talk to the home video camera. It's not a well-set-up shot, not a pretty background, just me talking into a camera. Frankly, that's more real than anything else I do."
Apparently, Cooper was doing something right, both in his reporting and in anchoring the news for several hours each night during CNN's blitz of tsunami coverage. Nightly ratings shot up by 64 percent, and CNN's president, Jon Klein, who'd been on the job just less than a month at the time, was said to be grooming Cooper for a bigger role. "That's just rumor," Cooper says, but there's no denying that Klein has doled out high praise for Cooper's storytelling and authenticity, two things Klein has said are the keys to his vision for CNN.
And Klein needs a vision. He's the network's fifth president since 2000, and as CNN prepares to blow out the candles on its 25th birthday cake, it's looking more toward attracting new viewers for the future than reflecting on the glory days of its past.
For his part, Klein has already started playing Jenga with the network's prime time lineup. Saying he didn't want any more "shouting debate shows," he canned Tucker Carlson, killed Crossfire, and declared himself against "talking about news" in favor of "delivering the news." That's a sentiment echoed almost word-for-word by several of the CNNers interviewed for this story, one that doubles as a not-so-veiled slam against the competitor no one wants to mention by name: Fox News.