Charles Hoff, director of coverage for CNN/US, details his years at CNN including coverage of the death of Princess Diana while bureau chief in London.
May 9, 2000
(CNN) – Two decades after R.E. "Ted" Turner dedicated the cable news network to America, CNN will celebrate its 20th anniversary. Viewers will have an opportunity to revisit some of the most momentous news events of the past with the CNN journalists who first brought them to the air.
Charles Hoff currently serves as director of coverage for CNN/US since 1998. Prior to this appointment, Hoff was CNN’s London bureau chief for many years. He has been with CNN since 1981, starting as Chicago bureau chief and later serving as national editor in Atlanta. He was also managing director of NEWSBEAM, CNN's satellite news gathering division which pioneered the use of portable up-links for live event coverage around the world.
Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Charles Hoff, and welcome.
Charles Hoff: Hello to everyone out there; it's a pleasure to be "on line."
Chat Moderator: When did you start working for CNN?
Charles Hoff: I started with CNN in January 1981, first freelancing as a writer for about a month, then being named bureau chief/correspondent in Chicago.
Question from Sunny1-CNN: What was it like in the beginning? Were you guys pretty well organized, or were there frequent moments of chaos?
Charles Hoff: There was plenty of chaos. It was a totally new concept, television news for 24 hours a day. We all had a lot to learn. One of the major learning experiences was the realization that you didn't have to produce as many news stories as we assumed you would. That is, the main stories took an inordinate amount of airtime.
Question from Sunny1-CNN: Did you think, when you started with CNN in 1981, that it would ever become what it is today?
Charles Hoff: Sincerely, I did not. I thought it would be amusing for a couple of years. I had no idea that we would become the leaders of our industry. It's been incredibly rewarding professionally.
Question from Susie-CNN: How did you get into the news biz?
Charles Hoff: I got into studying journalism while attending the University of Oklahoma. It's a long story about love, commitment and opportunity. Some other time.
Question from Susie-CNN: Mr. Hoff, what has been the most memorable story that you've covered?
Charles Hoff: The unexpected death of Princess Diana was the largest story I've ever been associated with. But my close involvement with the Middle East, and the beginning of the peace process, is undoubtedly the most important.
Question from Susie-CNN: Regarding the Princess Diana story, what image remains with you most prominently?
Charles Hoff: I had the opportunity to meet the princess the same year in which she was killed. She was a remarkable individual, very poised and at ease in a roomful of journalists. But the things that struck me the most were the elements of her presence. She stood nearly eye to eye with me; I'm six feet tall. And she had blue eyes that were penetrating, even off putting, disarming. She was a remarkable individual.
Question from Sunny1-CNN: How involved was Ted Turner in the actual daily news organization in the beginning?
Charles Hoff: Ted never took a "hands on" role at CNN. He would occasionally appear in the newsroom, but seldom expressed any input. The only exception might be that he always made it clear that he was very interested in the environment and the future of our world. He let us know that he was pleased to see us report on the population, environment and so on.
Chat Moderator: Do you have any funny stories about the early days at CNN that you can share with us?
Charles Hoff: I have many funny stories about the early days, but I'm not sure I can share them. There was the time one of our executives -- who used to promote upcoming news stories during a live cut-in from the newsroom -- thought he was not on camera and faked a heart attack, grabbing his chest and swooning. He was, in fact, on the air.
Chat Moderator: What do you feel was CNN's "defining moment"?
Charles Hoff: That's extremely debatable. Most people point to the Gulf War. I think it came before that. The stories that stick in my mind: Baby Jessica being rescued from the well in Texas, the popular revolt in China that ended in the massacre at Tiananmen Square, the fall of the Berlin Wall and then the Gulf War.
Chat Moderator: How would you compare CNN 19 years ago to CNN today?
Charles Hoff: In 1981, there was an incredible challenge in doing something that no one else had ever done. We faced ridicule from our colleagues and harassment from the establishment. No one took us seriously, and that strengthened our resolve. It was tough, it was fun and we fought hard. Today we have our reward.
Question from Sunny1-CNN: How important was CNN's pioneering of the use of portable up-links for live event coverage around the world?
Charles Hoff: Since I was very involved in designing and implementing our satellite newsgathering techniques, it was terribly important. We made some real in-roads in the early years of portable up-linking, and it is our daily bread and butter today. Live TV, from anywhere.
Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us today?
Charles Hoff: Just that I'm terribly proud to have been part of this great adventure for so many years. It presents new challenges daily as we move into a constantly changing world of communications. I'm here for the long haul.
Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today!
Charles Hoff: Goodbye to all, thanks for the chat.
Mr. Hoff joined the CNN@20 chat from CNN headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. The above is an edited transcript of the chat.
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