I spent last night in a little box. I was in one of a thousand little boxes filled with faces of people with whom I once worked or who had worked in the same place as me at some point. It was billed as the CNN 40th Anniversary Virtual Reunion. Five years ago for the network’s 35th, we gathered in person and snacked on premium hors d’oeuvres in an Atlanta hotel ballroom while getting an up close look at how everyone’s aged, been preserved, thickened, thinned, dyed, dried, shrunk, grew, lost a step or lost their hair.
On this night, through the miracle of Zoom and a Herculean effort by selfless CNN alumni who wouldn’t let a silly little pandemic spoil the party, we celebrated the network’s fourth decade.
In the “gallery view” on Zoom it appeared as if this was the Brady Bunch open gone mad. I swiped through pages and pages of these little boxes trying to pick out familiar names with faces, in some cases, no longer familiar looking, but I was relieved to see my fellow relics still alive.
I honestly don’t have much of a taste for reunions. I’ve never attended any for my high school or colleges, but I make an exception for CNN. You can say what you want about the network’s current programming, but as our former CNN president Tom Johnson implored us in one of the breakout chat room last night, “don’t bash the network in public.” But why would I? My 20 years there made everything possible after my employ there ended in 2001. The standards we held concerning accuracy, ethics, teamwork and unselfishness define who I am today. I’ve brought all those tenets to each of my subsequent jobs and to my life.
We always say CNN is a family. Dysfunctional at times, chaotic at others, but always supportive, even after we’ve moved on. That’s because we know what we created. Before the media landscape changed with the advent of the internet, social media and the move by news networks to largely opinion and bullshit machines, we were all about telling stories…not just talking about them. I took great pride in my writing…still do. I wasn’t ever much of a TV personality and that was fine. But sending crews out to shoot, report and feed stories is expensive. Talking heads on a set to blab about stories is cheap and today cheap is good. The cost is the future of journalism–fairly and responsibly informing the public skillfully and effectively.
So it was fun to see old friends, even in little boxes, reminisce and trade some old war stories. For me, it wasn’t so much, though, to remember and embrace the “good old days,” but for us also trade the knowledge gained through our years at CNN and beyond, at some point you celebrate what we’ve accomplished together, knowing all that thinking outside the box brought us together inside them on this glorious night.