In Depth

CNN: Presidential Primary Coverage

CNN laid the groundwork for its 2008 election coverage back in 2005 budgeting meetings, when all it really knew was that there would be a wide open two-party race. The planning paid off, with the Peabody judges singling out the cable network’s primary campaign and debate coverage for an award. “With state-of-the-art technology and a small army of reporters, producers and analysts, CNN gave viewers unparalleled coverage of a historic presidential election process,” the judges said.

The goal laid out in 2005 was “redefining political coverage” that had been largely unchanged for years, said Jonathan Klein, president of CNN U.S., who particularly drove his troops to keep new-media technology in mind. That led to the creation of Wolf Blitzer’s “The Situation Room” in 2006, a candidate debate where the questions came in via YouTube and a panel of pundits from all political perspectives.

The midterm 2006 election became CNN’s dress rehearsal for the look that would characterize it in 2008, turning its newsroom into the bustling election center, said David Bohrman, senior VP and Washington bureau chief, who found inspiration in CBS News’ Election Night 1956 coverage. He found John King’s digital imaging “Magic Wall” at a military technology trade show; the wall, which allowed Mr. King to explain complex information in an easily grasped way, “became sort of a co-star” of the coverage, he said.

Recognizing early on that much of the election action would take place in 2007, Sam Feist, CNN’s VP of Washington-based programming and political director, and his team spent hours on the phone with the candidates and parties lining up early debates, of which CNN ended up with 10, starting in June of that year.

One CNN Election night innovation that didn’t quite work was its “hologram,” digital images of reporter Jessica Yellin and guest Will.I.Am beamed into the studio. The line between next-generation coverage and gimmick is revealed only in retrospect, Mr. Klein said. “We’re going to be right far more than we are wrong.”

Mr. Bohrman is convinced that holograms are the future. “I’m convinced that in 15 to 20 years, it will be how television does remotes,” he said. “There’s something there.”