Preparing for the daily news feast at CNN in Abu Dhabi
By Rawdha Al Hameli
ABU DHABI—The television show “Connect the World with Becky Anderson” is a CNN (Cable News Network) news program live from Abu Dhabi hosted by Becky Anderson each Sunday to Thursday at 7 p.m. UAE time. The show, produced at CNN’s twofour54 headquarters in the capital city, covers news from around the globe and reflects on what’s going on in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, as well as the MENA region.
Ms. Anderson, the anchor and managing editor of CNN’s Abu Dhabi nightly show, says: “A good show is like a good dinner party. You talk about news and current events, but then you quickly move into arts and culture.”
During my visit to CNN’s state-of-the-art broadcast hub during the fourth Journalism Day on Oct. 15, we learned firsthand what goes on in preparation for the current affairs program.
In preparation for the show, the journalists as a team read the latest news. Then the show’s producer organizes a list of stories that will go in the segments of the show, just like a recipe. The producer then discusses the stories with the editorial team in the daily “budget,” meeting and the stories are organized in order of importance and get assigned to writers. During dinner party preparations, forgetting an ingredient might ruin your meal planning, just like sudden news might change all the producer’s hard work. That is why the organizers of the show must always check network feeds for potential stories that might come up throughout the day and the editors may have to change the whole fully written script as news occurs.
At a dinner party, as the guests start to arrive, the host greets them, and chats start about the latest and most recent news. Ms. Anderson, who has a master’s degree in journalism from Arizona State University in the United States, does the same kind of thing in the first block of the show where she presents the current events and engages in various community issues happening in national and international regions. This is when most viewers are tuned in and are paying attention, so visual displays are highly important. Live pictures and footage from reporters are used to convey the news the audience is hearing.
The prompter, who is the person that cues the screen that the anchor reads the script from, plays a large role. They have various responsibilities during the show like making sure the prompt software is working and connected, as well as keeping an eye on the anchor who may give hand signals to direct to a certain page.
The show focuses on guests in its second part, the “main course.” Stories that require the input of a guest are displayed in this segment.
Alireza Hajihosseini, the executive editor of the show, likes to emphasize that “Connect the World” is all about nonfiction narrative—that is, it is about finding stories that will attract larger audiences, many of them appealing to human interest.
“Journalism is about stories, and humans are storytellers,” Mr. Hajihosseini told the students from Zayed University, American Community School and New York University-Abu Dhabi who attended Journalism Day 2016.
Interviews also offer other ways of telling a story as a guest’s experience holds more credibility, he added.
However, considering that contacting someone famous depends on long-term agreement and relationships, interviewing a high profile guests is simultaneously the hardest to accomplish. Booking guests requires planning in advance and having a “Plan B,” seeing as logistics play a key part when relying on a guest speaker.
Just as the show reaches its third block, which is the halfway point, the number of viewers starts to decrease and that transitions the show into quick headline reads of previously mentioned news. After all, current news is the most valuable commodity.
“The currency in journalism is stories,” said Mohammed Lila, a CNN correspondent.
The show is built around those major headlines that grab viewer’s attention, which generates revenue critical to the financial success of the network.
While the show is airing and the audience is enjoying an effortless flow of events, behind the scenes, a great effort is being made by the producer to make sure that each segment follows the time and script. Producers like Catherine Chomiak, whose journalism degree is from the University of Pennsylvania and who hosted Journalism Day 2016, are managing the rundown and coordinating with the anchor, adding floats and backup stories if necessary. The technology director executes the technical aspect, including the audio, and handles the robotics on the studio cameras.
Reaching the end of a dinner party, as guests are starting to leave, the host sends them off with good wishes and uplifting news. Likewise, Ms. Anderson ends the show with a sweet finish, with stories that are inspirational and, for the most part, stories of success and happiness are mentioned. With this strong visual aid, the show ends on a positive note, just like a good dinner party with a dessert and a cup of coffee.
This was the fourth Journalism Day. The first two were held at American Community School and co-hosted by ACS and ZU’s Student Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. CNN has hosted the last two. All four of have been successful, according to one of the co-founders of the event.
“We are so happy to have this partnership with CNN, which is one of the major news networks in the world,” said Dr. David W. Bulla, an associate professor of communication at ZU and the adviser of the SPJ chapter. “Abu Dhabi students are so fortunate to get a look at how professionals like Becky and Alireza do their jobs. And the hospitality and organization are first-rate.”
ACS’s Valerie Cox, the other co-founder of Journalism Day, said her school’s students were elated at the experience of seeing how Ms. Anderson & Co. put on their daily show.
“As they got off the bus coming back to school from CNN, our students launched into how much they learned, some technicalities about equipment (‘why can’t we have a longer range’), then showed their media teacher (Derek Swanson) the work board and said, ‘Listen, we can plan a whole lesson around this; let’s use this for our weekly broadcasts.’ The CNN folks truly inspired our students,” Ms. Cox said.