"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: A day at the CNN global headquarters

Monday, March 23, 2009

A day at the CNN global headquarters

The following first appeared on June 9, 2007 in my column at the Weekly Trust.

By Farooq A. Kperogi

As I promised last week, I will share with you some of the experiences of my visit to the CNN Center here in Atlanta.

Even though I have been living here for almost a year, and my department is only five blocks (that is, about five minutes’ walk) away from the CNN Center, I had not had the chance to visit it until now. That tells you how much free time pursuing a Ph.D. and teaching full-time gives me!

Well, my visit was at the instance of my friend and colleague in school who is also a senior editor at CNN. He often jokes that I spend too much time reading books and agonizing over the problems of the world.

“You need to unwind, Farooq,” he often says. Since our spring session ended in early May, which means I have a lot of free time till summer classes start on June 11, I decided to heed his advice to “unwind.”

It turned out that that the time of my visit coincided with the time that news of Jeff Koinange’s dismissal from CNN was all grist to the mill of the blogosphere (as blogs on the Internet are collectively called). I thought that my readers would like to read about it. But I digress.

The CNN headquarters is an entrancing marble splendor, to say the least. Maybe this is expected. But it is not just its magnificence that charms the mind; the refreshing creativity of its design is also enthralling.

For instance, when you look down from the uppermost levels of this enchantingly sprawling complex, what you see is a map of the world beautifully emblazoned across the lustrous tiles that dot the open-space floor. It’s a powerful architectural statement of the business of the building.

This place is so immense and so intricate that it’s not impossible for people to work here for years and not have cause to know each other. My friend told me the complex is permanently rebuilt and redesigned such that a visitor who came here a few years back may not recognize the place today. He said it took him over a year to find his way around the building.

And, even though he has worked here for nearly two decades, he still occasionally faces challenges navigating the elaborate, luxuriant contours of this wondrous mix of architectural grandeur and colorful art.

As you would expect, the CNN Center is a magnet for visitors and tourists from all over the world. As soon as you get to the front entrance of the headquarters, you see a motley crowd of people excitedly taking pictures, having guided tours round some areas of the building, or simply standing and marveling at the pleasantly intimidating radiance of the environment.

CNN has six distinct sections: CNN USA (which is viewed only in the United States), CNN International (which is viewed by the rest of the world apart from the United States), CNN en EspaƱol (which is viewed only in the Spanish-speaking world), CNN Headline News (a breezy, sensational, tabloid-style news channel that is viewed only in the United States), CNN Pipeline (the Internet version of CNN), and Cartoon Network.

I spent more time at CNN USA and CNN International than elsewhere. Because I was a “privileged” visitor, I was taken to places that most visitors don’t have access to. For instance, I watched as Jim Clancy and his colleague (whose name I can’t remember now) were reading news live to CNN International audiences across the world. I later shook hands with him.

I also had a chance to visit the newsrooms of the major sections of CNN and was introduced to many other high-profile journalists and newscasters. I felt more important than I really am!

At every turn, my friend would introduce me with the following words: “Meet Farooq Kperogi, a Nigerian journalist and doctoral student in communication….” He said many more flattering things that will be immodest to repeat here. And the response was always, “Wow! Nice to meet you!!”

Well, I should actually be the one saying “Wow!” These people are the American and international media elite, people who mold American and world public opinion in ways I can only dream of, who get paid more money than I can ever hope for, yet they made me feel important by pretending that they were impressed by me.

My most fruitful encounter was with the producers and anchors of the “Inside Africa” program. These people’s modesty was stunning. Well, perhaps, this was because of my friend. We discussed a number of issues, including my perception of their jaundiced coverage of Africa.

They gave me the privilege to henceforth share story ideas with them and to let them know when and if I have issues with their reporting on Africa. (I hope they were not just being polite). At the time of my visit, Femi Oke, the British-born Nigerian main anchorperson of the “Inside Africa” program, had gone out of the office.

When I asked about Jeff Koinange, there was silence, a silence pregnant with suspense—and meaning. “Well, he is no longer with us,” one of them offered reluctantly.

“Was he fired?” I asked.
“All I can tell you is that he no longer works with us,” another person said.

I didn’t push the issue any further. It was clearly an uncomfortable topic in the newsroom.

This gigantic international media conglomerate was established by Ted Turner on June 1, 1980. Turner, in case you didn’t know, was expelled from Brown University in 1960 for inviting a female visitor to his dormitory room. (Does that sound familiar to students and graduates of Bayero University? Talk of “Sharia” in America!)

But what I found even more intriguing about the history of CNN is the regional sentiment behind its formation. Before CNN, all the major news media had been based in the North, specifically in New York; much like is the case with Lagos in Nigeria.

Ted Turner, native of a town called Savannah, Georgia, (about three hour’s drive from Atlanta) was determined to challenge, perhaps even reverse, that trend. Against common practice, he chose Atlanta, a southern city that was hitherto only a regional business hub, as the corporate headquarters of his new cable TV station.

He was mocked. The northerners thought it would not last, and he was, in fact, derisively dubbed the “mouth of the south.”

Today CNN is the preeminent 24-hour news station in the world with more than 1.5 billion viewers in over 220 countries and territories. Is there a lesson we can learn from this in Nigeria, especially in northern Nigeria?
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