Ted Turner turns 75 years old this month
He founded CNN, the first 24-hour cable news network, in 1980
In 1990, Turner hired Wolf Blitzer, host of CNN's "The Situation Room"
Blitzer reflects on what he learned from his former boss
Watch “Ted Turner: The Maverick Man” on Tuesday, November 19 – Ted’s 75th birthday – at 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. ET.
It was only after I joined CNN on May 8, 1990, that I got to know Ted Turner and learn TV news and life lessons from him. In recent weeks and months, I’ve been thinking of those lessons as I worked on our new CNN one-hour documentary: “Ted Turner: The Maverick Man.” Here – in no particular order – are five things I learned from the CNN founder:
1. The news comes first.
He would always remind all of us at CNN that we work for a “news” organization and when there’s breaking news, that takes priority. Nowadays, that sounds so obvious, especially to all of us at CNN – the world’s news leader when it comes to breaking news. But when he created the first 24/7 television news network on June 1, 1980, that concept was not so obvious.
2. If you have a dream, pursue it.
When he created CNN, a lot of folks thought he was crazy. The three broadcast networks already had a daily 30-minute newscast. But Ted believed people in the United States – and indeed around the world – wanted a lot more. He took what money he had and rolled the dice. He was, of course, right. There are now hundreds of local, national and international 24/7 cable news channels in dozens of languages around the world. In short, Ted did for television news what Bill Gates and Steve Jobs did for computers and the Internet.
3. Even after terrible life setbacks, you can recover and even thrive.
Ted had a very unhappy childhood. His parents sent him away to boarding school when he was only 4. His father berated him for not getting into Harvard and stopped paying his tuition at Brown because he didn’t like Ted’s major. Later, his father committed suicide. Still in his early 20s, Ted went on to take a local advertising business and create a worldwide media empire. At his peak, Ted was worth more than $10 billion. Years later, Ted lost his media empire, and the love of his life, Jane Fonda. Even at his lowest point, he was able to turn things around and create a new business venture – becoming a bison rancher and opening a chain of restaurants, which keeps him thriving and relevant today.
4. A smart person has a lot of interests.
Ted loves more than just the news. He loves entertainment – he created TNT, TBS, Turner Classic Movies, The Cartoon Network – and sports. At one point, when he owned the Atlanta Braves, he took them from last place to a World Series win. He also has a passion for protecting the environment and eliminating nuclear weapons. And he puts his money where his mouth is. He made a $1 billion pledge to the United Nations.
5. Don’t be afraid to admit you’ve made mistakes.
Anyone who speaks with Ted will hear him acknowledge his many mistakes over the years – from not being an attentive father to failing to understand what the Time Warner/AOL merger would mean for his involvement with his beloved CNN. He has no role in CNN today. The great thing about Ted is that he knows where he erred and is willing to learn and improve. By sharing the good and bad of his life, he hopes others will learn as well.