October 11, 1982, CNN was into its third year and I was starting my first day as an employee. My orientation session, in addition to detailing company procedures and locating the bathrooms, included a tutorial session on the newsroom computer.

I was told the computer, really just a green-glowing screen with a keyboard, linked to a mainframe in some remote corner of our small building, was the backbone of the network. It delivered the news wires instantly, which we could search by keyword.

Chuck Westbrook

This alone was revolutionary. In most newsrooms at that time, teletype machines rattled and rang as the printer spit out reams of wire copy. Someone would then pull the pages off the printer, going through them a story at a time, ripping the pertinent items from the printout. Those pages carrying stories not deemed important cascaded to the floor.

It was explained with great pride that the computer had revolutionized the CNN newsroom. Producers, writers, anchors, tape editors and executives instantly were able to see breaking news from our reporters or the wire services. That speed directly translated to the rapidity with which CNN could communicate to the viewers. CNN was well on its way to establishing itself as the news leader due, in part, to the computerized newsroom.

Fast-forward thirteen years. It is August of 1995. I am now Supervising Producer for CNN International, the overseas version of CNN. The newsroom computer has remained our main method for internal and external communications. This day, along with the major news, the computer brings me an internal memo announcing the latest bloom on the CNN branch, CNN Interactive. Little did I know that eight months later I would be working there.

During those eight months, my curiosity about CNN Interactive became fascination. I initially viewed it as a print version of CNN news. That impression didn't last, as I found sound and video embedded in the stories. This was more than print; this was more than radio. During breaking stories, I found myself with an eye on the web page. It was keeping pace with its CNN brethren by using the latest information and pictures. I became fascinated with this revolutionary medium and its potential for news coverage. When there was an opportunity at CNN Interactive, I couldn't resist.

April 9, 1996 I joined CNN Interactive as a Senior Producer. The first thing I noticed, when walking into the newsroom, was the row of silent TV monitors. Like every other news outlet in the company, the television news gathering engine still pulled this car of the network train. The instant news broke on the network, this place was poised to react.

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The second thing I noticed was the relative hush. Television newsrooms are noisy places, with banks of monitors blaring sound from dozens of sources. People are yelling as tapes are carried last second from edit bays to playback machines. Here, people wore headphones and spoke in hushed tones. They seemed submerged in the large monitors that were bigger than their heads. Their important images and sounds were being delivered via a server that instantly sped it to their destination. There was no need to yell here.

Beneath the calm surface, I learned there was a rapid undercurrent. During the first breaking news story I experienced after coming to work at CNN Interactive, my television impulses were still traveling my synapses. Israel had shelled a refugee camp in Southern Lebanon. I felt I should be urging an anchor to break in with the news.

Instead, the web master was the star of this production. As a producer and I breathed down his neck, he transformed our news bulletin into code. With a click of the mouse, the line of text popped onto our page. Our viewers were reading from the Internet just as CNN's anchor was reading it on the air. Readers of our page were informed of the story before those counting on the wire services. Accuracy ruled; speed counted. These two things which were the lifeblood of CNN television, coursed rapidly through the circuit boards of CNN Interactive.

It didn't stop there. As our television counterparts were taking the incoming images to viewers, so were we. Just as I had done in the television newsroom, I was contacting the network assignment desks, getting clarification of the latest information, alerting the associate producers to details on what pictures we could expect and when. As soon as the latest was available to us, it was coded and minutes later, available to the viewers of the web page.

However, unlike television, there was something deeper at work. We were compiling previous stories related to the breaking news. Related web sites were being explored and noted. Soon our coverage, pulsing with the latest developments, also included the context and background. On television, a background report on an unexpected news event can take hours to develop.

We also actively involved the people coming to us for news. We invited their reaction and discussion, which we posted. We guided them to other web sites which could further inform them.

As a television producer, my job was to estimate the viewers' interests and fill their information needs. On a daily basis, a large part of a television producer's role is making decisions: which stories will be told, in what order viewers will see them, how long they will see them (the length they will run) and what video and sound they will experience in the telling of the story.

There's a major difference on the web. The newsroom computer which made CNN so proud has evolved into a computer newsroom. It is your newsroom. You are the producer. You decide which stories you will see, how long you will spend with each, whether you select the sound and/or the movies which are posted.

We strive to give you the latest information, guiding you toward the latest breaking news with our placement of stories, along with the pictures, sounds and related stories we offer. But the ultimate choice is yours. We are a producing team. This is how news should be. This is cutting edge. CNN.

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