Defining the Moments

CNN Interactive staffers comment . . .

The Million Man March
Dave Mandeville "The Million Man March evolved into our first big follow-as-it-happens special section. We designed the page with multiple images at the top, crowd shots next to close-ups of marchers and speakers, and then changed them rapidly as different speakers came to the podium and crowds grew. We covered all the angles, too: pros, cons, reactions from the U.S. and the world, plus background on the issue of race in the U.S.

"By the end of the day, we had galleries of sounds, video, and photos and a dozen stories. We designed the page to be flexible enough to handle the whole day, and the page did it well. Our handling of the march set the method we have used for similar events ever since."

--Dave Mandeville, web master
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The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin
"The Rabin assassination was one of CNN Interactive's first major tests -- and we learned a lot from it. Bear in mind we were only a few months old at the time, and there were no models for producing news on the Web. To a certain extent, Web news is still uncharted territory, but at the time of the assassination, we were truly in the vanguard.

"Nearly our entire staff was in a meeting when our copy editor, Randy Jackson, crept over to me to whisper that Rabin had been shot. Immediately I notified some of our key people and we got to work.

Gregg Russell

"Unfortunately, a film crew was shooting a promotional spot in the middle of the newsroom that day. There were lights, cameras, cables, and assorted other equipment strewn around, and about 20 people milling about. Chaotic circumstances for any newsroom, let alone one experiencing the heightened stress of a big breaking story.

"Despite the obstacles, we posted an accurate account of the initial details of the shooting within minutes, and before any of our competitors. Then, when we got word that Rabin had died from the wounds, we posted that story before our competition, too. That was job #1. Job #2 was to keep up with the story as it developed. Job #3 was to provide some context and some background.

"Fortunately, we had some of our best staff on the job. Writer Lisa Waugh kept on top of the main story, while our crackerjack Associate Producer, Kenny Ferguson, kept an eye on all incoming sound and video. Another writer, Liza Hogan, handled as many related stories as she could get her hands on. For the rest of the evening we continued to add as much as we could to the site.

"In the future, we would learn how to make sure each user gets the most updated story even if they don't know to reload. We would develop a protocol for handling stories of that magnitude and develop systems for cutting down on errors. We would develop as an organization and have a better idea of what we're trying to do. But given that it was the first serious breaking news for one of the first major news sites on the Web, I think we performed extraordinarily well. One thing they never tell you about trial by fire: Even when you're burned to a crisp, it still feels good to come out on the winning side."

--Gregg Russell, producer
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Life on Mars?
Amber Eaves "When the reports on the Mars 'discovery' started coming in, the initial reaction in the newsroom here was a lot less intense than, say when the Simpson verdict or the TWA and ValuJet crashes happened. But as with all major stories, the most challenging and gratifying part of the whole experience for a video editor is producing a good piece of video that tells the story.

"With CNN's vast video resources, great pictures are usually pouring in for us to use, but there are no live-shots from outer space, so when the Mars story broke, I remember thinking, 'Thank God for NASA animation...'

"NASA has always provided clear, colorful animation video of their latest exploits, and the Mars issue was no exception. We were able to provide some great QuickTimes as part of our special Mars pages, even though the focus of the story was a potato-sized rock."

--Amber Eaves, associate producer/video editor
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Hurricane Opal
Gary Carter "Hurricanes always raise the energy level in the newsroom, but by the time Opal came in 1995, the busiest hurricane season in more than 60 years, we treated it with a ho-hum attitude at first. It dropped a lot of rain on the Yucatan Peninsula, then turned toward the U.S. Gulf Coast with minimal hurricane-force winds. Yeah, we thought, we'll have to do something with that in a day or two. The usual routine -- track it as it comes in, document the wind damage, flooding. Nothing special.

"Then, in an incredibly short time, Opal gained muscle, shooting up to Category 4. Suddenly we had the potential for a major disaster. Thanks to our on-the-job training with the storms of the previous few weeks, we were able to toss a broad range of information on-line. In addition to CNN on-the-scene reports, augmented by wire service stories, we had satellite and radar images, a selection of links to the best weather-related sites on the Web, and more. Writers, copy editors, associate producers and producers on all shifts worked together to pack as much information as we could on our storm page.

"As Opal roared onto the Florida coast (an area already hit by hurricanes Allison and Erin earlier in the season), the production process was streamlined so that the latest information and images were posted almost as quickly as they arrived in the studios. I know the copy editors felt a personal responsibility to make sure we kept ourselves up-to-the-minute, but I'm sure our concern was no greater than that of everyone else in the newsroom. We knew people were turning to us to find out what was going on. CNN Interactive, just over a month old, was getting a tremendous number of hits -- and we were eager to show what we could do."

--Gary Carter, senior producer
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Nato Strikes: Bosnia
Lea Ann Leming "I came in at 4 a.m. ET -- the first morning person in on CNN Interactive's official launch day -- to find that NATO had begun a fierce series of air strikes against Bosnian Serb military targets. Although I was consumed with the task at hand -- getting an accurate story up with sounds, images, the latest from CNN's Bosnia and Washington correspondents -- I was also struck by the enormity of what was happening. Over the past months, one safe haven after another had fallen to Bosnian Serb forces -- sending tens of thousands of people from their homes with only a suitcase or a paper bag for their belongings. Serb civilians, too, became refugees. The faces were poignant, the suffering palpable. There's no way one could follow this story and not be touched. Only two days before the first NATO strikes, the marketplace had been shelled in downtown Sarajevo, turning what should have been a normal lunch-time into a bloody massacre. Only later, would we get a fuller sense of the story of Srebrenica, where thousands were left in mass graves. With the NATO strikes, the Balkan war seemed to have reached a turning point."

--Lea Ann Leming, producer
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McCall Wilder The Simpson Verdict
"Every TV in the CNN Interactive newsroom was on high-volume and set on the same raw satellite feed out of Los Angeles as we awaited the verdict of the century in the O.J. Simpson double-murder trial. Two writer-associate producer teams were positioned, with programs open and keyboards ready, to immediately write the first reaction stories, pull a picture of O.J., and make a sound file and QuickTime movie of the verdict announcement. Our producer had a "GUILTY" and a "NOT GUILTY" banner ready to post on the Web as soon as the words were out of the foreperson's mouth.

"The entire newsroom fell silent as the jury entered the courtroom and Simpson and his attorneys rose. The front wall of our newsroom is glass, and people were pressed up against it watching our TVs. No one wanted to miss a word, and much like the L.A. courtroom, no one spoke or moved until the verdict was read.

"As soon as the words 'not guilty' were heard, our news shift began a four-hour marathon to cover ALL the points of reaction: from Simpson, the defense and prosecution, the Brown, Goldman and Simpson families, and the community."

--McCall Wilder, writer
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 Lisa Habib The Crash of TWA Flight 800
"We got word of the plane crash just before 10 p.m. ET on July 17. For about the next six hours as the story developed at a frenetic pace, the CNN Interactive staff worked at the same level. Our source of information, as it is in most cases of breaking news, was CNN. We literally watched TV to get the facts and record the sound and pictures as they unfolded live. Our challenge was to gather and present the information on-line as quickly and comprehensively as possible. That meant updating the Web page literally every few minutes with new text, images, and sound. It was a hectic, stressful night, one that journalists both love and hate -- love, for the challenge it presents; hate, because of the tragedy behind it. It was a challenge, I think, that we met admirably and a tragedy we continue to cover faithfully."

--Lisa Habib, senior producer
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Jim Morris The Unabom Investigation
"The word that comes to mind when I think about the Unabomber case is 'time.' The first attack attributed to the Unabomber occurred in 1978 and the most recent was in 1995, so the person responsible -- whoever it is -- was able to elude authorities for a long time. It seems to me that two separate stories have yet to be fully told: Was he exceptionally clever or were there clues that investigators missed? Much more 'time' will go by before we know the answers."

--Jim Morris, writer
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Ron Brown Plane Crash
Wayne Drash "A resilient yet amenable leader, Commerce Secretary Ron Brown embodied the American dream. The day his plane went down, killing him and 34 others, America lost one of its great African-American inspirations. The others, too, were the respected leaders of their fields. News reports about the crash varied widely. One news service released a prewritten article, saying the plane arrived safely: Passengers were enthused for their upcoming Croatian business venture, it said. Minutes later, the wire report had disappeared and another crossed in its place. Its message: The plane crashed into the ocean or a mountaintop. No one was believed to have survived.

"More reports poured in, confirming the news. Though we're never immune to such tragedy, the fact a world leader was on board made this one all the more painful and troublesome. And pictures of mourning relatives and friends weeping over the loss of a daughter, spouse, father or colleague brought the tragedy home. All on board were on a mission to improve the Balkans' economy, but all perished before their due time."

--Wayne Drash, writer
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The Russian Election and Other Pivotal Elections
Liza Hogan "Pivotal Elections was a three-part series on national elections in India, Israel and Russia. The idea was to supplement our daily news stories with an in-depth section on the candidates and issues in each contest.

"We started with India, the world's largest democracy, where 14,000 candidates competed for 543 parliamentary seats. We focused our attention on the battle between the long-dominant Congress Party and the right-wing India People's Party which went on to win the greatest number of seats.

"Next came Israel where the contest between the left-wing Labor Party and the right-wing Likud party produced a prime minister race too close to call. Benjamin Netanyahu's narrow victory brought a new chapter in Israeli history and world-wide anxiety over the peace process.

"Russia was the third and perhaps most engaging of the three. Because polls in Russia are notoriously unreliable and because Boris Yeltsin was so ubiquitous in the local media, it was impossible to gauge how the election was going to turn out and whether Russia would opt for a return to Communism. Then there was the issue of Yeltsin's health. One day the ample Russian president was rocking out at a youth rally, the next he was barely able to move his lips, much less his hips.

"Hopefully we were able to give our readers an understanding of how democracy works in three very important countries and an appreciation for the significance of these elections. It was very gratifying to get e-mail messages from our readers all over the world telling us how much our coverage meant to them. We also received a few complaints from people who wanted special coverage of their elections as well."

--Liza Hogan, writer
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Tomo Mori Tokyo Subway Gassings Trial
"Although I haven't really worked on the Tokyo trial story, I follow it. It's affected me. My father regularly takes one of the subway trains that was gassed. He could have been on that train. His secretary was -- and ended up in the hospital. You get the sense that you could have been the one who died, and for no reason. I'm disappointed. I grew up in Tokyo and I always felt secure. It's no longer the same place anymore -- because of the incident.

--Tomo Mori, multimedia designer
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