Lou Waters on 20 years with CNN
May 31, 2000
(CNN) – On June 1, 2000, CNN celebrates two decades of journalism as a cable news network. CNN International is the world's only global 24-hour news network. In recognition of this 20th anniversary, CNN correspondents are joining chats to describe their memories of the past twenty years.
Lou Waters co-anchors "CNN Today" with Natalie Allen. He joined CNN in 1980 and has covered five presidential elections, aging in America, the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and the San Francisco earthquake. Waters is the recipient of many awards including a CableACE for "Inside Politics" ‘88.
Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Lou Waters, and welcome.
Lou Waters: Hello there, chat room. Lou Waters here. This is a first crack at Web chat, so let me know how I'm doing.
Chat Moderator: When did you join CNN? What were your earliest experiences?
Lou Waters: I joined CNN early, before we went on the air in June, and was met with a rather old antebellum mansion for a studio that was completely empty. One month before rehearsals were to begin, there was still mud on the floor, wires sticking out of walls, but no cameras or anchor desks or lights or anything that would suggest that a news network, a 24-hour a day news network, was about to make its debut.
I, like other early CNN workers, was dubious that we would even be able to make the deadline of June 1, 1980, and begin the challenge. So, in the beginning, I, like others, wondered -- not only would we make it onto the air -- but would we in fact be able to fill 24 hours a day with television news? For some executives in charge, this was a very real fear and an early hurdle to overcome. That's how we began.
Question from Scv21: Lou, I have watched you ever since you have been at CNN and you are my favorite. I was wondering what is the most exciting report you have ever done?
Lou Waters: The Challenger explosion may not have been exciting but, for me, was the most explosive story I have ever reported. I worked the early shuttle missions, was familiar with the NASA program, had developed relationships with astronauts and, in addition to being totally shocked at the explosion, I was emotionally affected as well. So, for me, as difficult as it was, it is no doubt one of the most memorable stories I've ever reported.
Question from ScottPalmer4President2000: Do you think CNN made a real difference in Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980?
Lou Waters: I do not. Not too many people watched CNN in 1980. Perhaps a little more than a million viewers tuned in at one time or another in 1980. And our political reporting was scant, at best, in the beginning. So I think Ronald Reagan was pretty much on his own in that election.
Chat Moderator: Is there a story or event that you would have liked to cover but didn't get the opportunity to and, if so, what was it?
Lou Waters: I asked to be a part of the Persian Gulf War coverage. I was told that I was needed on the anchor desk, if you can believe that. I reported from the anchor desk throughout that conflict. But, last summer, I had the opportunity to cover the Kosovo War and thereby fulfill my desire to have some war reporting on my resume. It was quite an experience.
Question from Stevetalk: What do you think really turned the tide for CNN and earned the respect of viewers?
Lou Waters: That was an ongoing process. Some say CNN made its reputation on the Persian Gulf War. I submit that stories from 1980 on -- including the Challenger explosion, Jessica in the well, and others -- were all important developments in establishing CNN's credibility. The Persian Gulf War, although a story owned by CNN in the early hours, was a major step along the way. But all the stories that we've reported are part of the tapestry that is CNN.
Question from Scv21: I know you are one of the first ones to work at CNN. How many others are there that started when CNN started broadcasting?
Lou Waters: They tell me 250 or so. I thought it was 300, but at the time I thought we needed a few thousand more. We were a small group to begin with.
Question from Don: In all your years there, what's the most embarrassing moment you can think of?
Lou Waters: Everybody asks this question. And, truthfully, I can think of none. I've gotten some facts wrong and have had to correct them. I've walked off the set while the camera was still on. I've made some glaring mistakes, but always considered that part of the fun.
Chat Moderator: How involved was Ted Turner in the actual news department in the early days?
Lou Waters: Ted was in and out. He was like a butterfly flying from department to department asking, "How are we doing?" -- making occasional suggestions but never demanding, always on alert and always letting us know that he was behind the effort 1000 percent.
Question from Antony: Lou, what was your worst moment as a presenter/reporter?
Lou Waters: There's that "embarrassing moment" question again. I'm racking my brain here. It was not embarrassing necessarily but I had been given erroneous information about the meeting place for the military withdrawal talks in Kosovo. I was the only correspondent with this erroneous information, which I broadcast all over the world. The international media, I discovered, watches CNN and I was deluged with questions about where I got my information. It all got straightened out, but these things happen.
Chat Moderator: Why have you stayed so long at CNN? What makes you stay?
Lou Waters: Excellent question. I'm the only Atlanta anchor left. I came because CNN offered the promise of live reporting. I'm a reporter first, an anchor second. CNN allows me to do both. I love my job. Ergo, I love CNN.
Question from Stevetalk: Who is your favorite co-anchor?
Lou Waters: My favorite co-anchor is my current co-anchor, Natalie Allen. We have a comfortable association. I trust her. She is an excellent journalist. And we sit side by side, which makes it easier. I've had co-anchors in the past who were excellent, but were in different cities than I. And that makes doing a comfortable program more difficult.
Question from Antony: If somebody wanted to get into news presenting, what’s the quickest direct way of doing it?
Lou Waters: The best advice is to have a solid reporter’s background. I do not suggest necessarily a journalism degree. However, some knowledge in a particular field is always helpful. Presenters, or "news-readers" as they are sometimes called, are not in as high demand as a man or woman with a solid reporting background. In other words, don't start at the top.
Chat Moderator: Now that the first 20 years have passed, where will CNN be in another 20 years?
Lou Waters: Many people would like to know the answer to that question. The digital age raises all sorts of possibilities. CNN's current news-on-demand will undoubtedly lead to another, more sophisticated digital demand for news and information, perhaps a hybrid of television and the Internet. That's just a guess.
Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us?
Lou Waters: Twenty years have gone by swiftly. It is astonishing that a news network that was not supposed to succeed has been such a smashing success. I thank all of you and all of your friends and family for supporting this difficult challenge. It has been a wonderful ride. Good-bye and good luck.
Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us.
Lou Waters joined the CNN@20 chat via telephone from Atlanta, Georgia. CNN provided a typist for Waters. The above is an edited transcript of the chat.
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