May 21, 2021

Credit: Mark Gibson / Getty Images

*This piece was originally published on January 15th, 2021.

It might be difficult to remember now, but there was a time when the news wasn’t 24/7. There were morning and evening editions of the paper; the nightly news was, well, nightly; radio offered updates from time to time. But there’s a whole lot of difference between that world and today’s never-stop cavalcade of heartbreak, tragedy, excitement, and despair. 

And one of the biggest dividing lines between those two realities was the creation of CNN. Journalist Lisa Napoli is the author of “Up All Night: Ted Turner, CNN, and the Birth of 24-Hour News,” and she argues that CNN didn’t just change television, or cable, or even news… it changed our entire world.

Three Takeaways:

  • You can’t tell the story of the early days of CNN without telling the story of Ted Turner, its flamboyant, yacht-racing co-founder, dubbed “The Mouth of the South.” After taking over his father’s billboard business, Turner moved from local television to the then-emerging field of cable television. Napoli points out that, in the beginning, Turner wasn’t even that interested in news; he was more interested in the technology of cable and satellite. For various reasons, programming a station with sports and old movies wouldn’t work… but news, he figured, was doable.
  • The early days of CNN were a bit ramshackle. Napoli describes it as something of a startup culture (remember this was the first 24/7 news source ever), with a small number of people taking a huge risk to realize Turner and co-founder Reese Schonfeld’s idea. And all of this was based in the not-yet-media-capital of Atlanta.
  • Napoli believes that, without CNN, someone would have eventually launched a 24/7 cable news channel; the idea was just too compelling. But we’re still grappling with the changes that CNN brought to our culture. “Celebrity” reporting, politicians being camera-ready, style-over-substance journalism: these are all issues that have swirled around CNN.

More Reading: 

CNN, Lisa Napoli, news, media, Ted Turner

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