CNN.com Expands Its Reach

Oct 7, 2007  •  Post A Comment

How does a news and information Web site stand out from the crowd and convince judges for the Edward R. Murrow Awards that it is the best?
If it’s CNN.com, the people behind it pride themselves on running a multimedia site that gives users instant access to the international, national and local news and information they find most relevant. The site, launched in 1995, is this year’s winner of the Murrow Award as the best television network-affiliated Web site.
CNN.com recently unveiled its latest incarnation, featuring text, images, video, related stories and user-generated content. All of the video, live and on-demand, is now free, including some that previously was available only by subscription.
“We don’t want to let anything get in the way of news and information,” said Mitch Gelman, senior VP and senior executive producer of CNN.com. “People come to find out what’s happening now, what’s happening in their world, the country and what’s happening in their lives.”
Yet the Web site’s biggest challenge is to understand its audience—a reported 30 million people a month—and to that end, it has conducted extensive research.
“As a result of empirical and anecdotal research, we developed six personas that describe what it is that the audience is coming to do,” Mr. Gelman explained. “There are ‘the scanner,’ ‘the story tracker,’ ‘the topic maven,’ ‘the news junkie,’ ‘the time killer’ and ‘the perspective seeker.’ Once we understood that, we tried to structure and design a service that would accommodate their needs.”
It’s news and information for a world that wants instant gratification. “You’re always tested on the big stories. The challenge is to be consistent in your daily coverage, and then you get to find out whether your abilities are a match for a big story. In coverage of the Iraq war, the mortgage crisis, the Virginia Tech shootings, we brought it all together: the best integrative and user-generated content, and the best local perspective,” said Mr. Gelman.
That effort made an impression on the Murrow judges, who commended the Web site’s “clear hierarchy of news, not only highlighting the important but the interesting and the compelling. There’s an effort as well to wean the site away from wire content and into much more original material, which should be lauded.”
Realizing it can’t be everywhere news breaks, CNN has a section on the site for user-generated media and observations called I-report, which executives insist is thoroughly vetted as authentic before it is distributed. Such images and reports from the field have been used on stories including the Jena 6 and the Virginia Tech massacre.
“We need to be open to a broader reach than ever before. I think it helps us tell a complete story, having a ‘participant observer’ from the inside looking out combined with a professional from the outside looking in,” Mr. Gelman noted.
The Murrow judges agreed, citing CNN.com’s “pioneering work in engaging the audience to contribute news, sowing the seeds for big news events in the future.”
CNN.com also is making inroads into the mobile space with live streaming video, video-on-demand and breaking news alerts, although at this point the features are available only to customers who subscribe to Sprint’s mobile phone service.
“We’re pleased to distribute news and information across multiple platforms with standards of accuracy, reliability and timeliness and deliver that brand promise online,” Mr. Gelman said.


  1. According to Alexa traffic rankings at alexa.com:
    Reach, Rank, and Page Views are the lowest
    for CNN.com in the last 5 years (since 2003).
    The biggest drop in rankings happens simultaneously
    with the last year of iReport. The solution is to put
    people first at CNNfan.com for real CNN fans
    … Not i-robot-reporters.

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