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Right In the Thick of It

Oct 7, 2007  •  Post A Comment

It was July 2006 and tensions were rising along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. With bureaus in Beirut and Jerusalem, CNN quickly set up a wartime infrastructure to cover what became a monthlong battle between Israel and Hezbollah, deploying as many as 24 teams able to broadcast live throughout the region.
On Oct. 15 the network will claim the Edward R. Murrow Award for continuing coverage as a result of its wall-to-wall reporting on the conflict.
“A lot of news organizations ask themselves: Is there anything we think we’re best at in the world? One of the things CNN is best at is field deployment in big major news situations,” said Tony Maddox, executive VP and managing director of CNN International, who oversaw the coverage from Atlanta. “We have the ability to move into difficult terrain very quickly and set up a robust broadcast infrastructure, with logistics on how people can sleep, eat, power generators, have money and a good communications network taking care of all the stuff that needs to be done. It’s similar to running a military campaign and the kind of stuff that wins awards—to be in the right places and give the audience the level of insight on a complicated story.”
Mr. Maddox said CNN’s news philosophy is to first explain those complexities to the audience, putting the key facts into context, and then to relate how the story unfolds in different aspects. Aside from the multiple locations being covered in Lebanon and Israel, an important part of the story was the reaction in Washington and other world capitals.
“You only had to look at the reaction of the U.S. government to know this was going to be a huge story,” Mr. Maddox said. “We had operations in Damascus, Amman, Israel, Beirut and Cairo, and at one point were broadcasting inside Iran. You pull in all that regional response, combined with London and the enormously impressive Washington presence, and we were right in the thick of it.”
In the field, CNN—whose operation in the Middle East at the time was far and away its biggest deployment—was aided by advances in light­weight, inexpensive satellite newsgathering technology. The network used satellite transmission devices the size of a laptop computer that enabled it to broadcast very high-quality images from all over the region. Satellite trucks also were used.
“We wouldn’t have had the ability to pack up and move quickly on this scale with this many people” without the new technology, Mr. Maddox said. “It was a breakthrough.”
Operating in a war zone has its hazards, but no CNN crews are sent in unless they have been specially trained to work in a dangerous environment. “A war zone isn’t a place to go learning,” Mr. Maddox said, adding nearly everyone involved was highly experienced.
“We had a safety crew in the region to handle journalist security. They come out to the region and give guidance on operation, transport and oversight of backup in the field. There wasn’t a sense of journalists being targeted like they are in Iraq, and even with dangerous locations and potential hazards, no one was injured.”

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