Atlanta knows its place when it comes to reporting the latest news about Covid-19, because it’s the global headquarters for CNN, the Cable News Network established back in 1980, long before anyone realised the potential power of a single broadcaster covering the entire planet.
Its main building is on Ted Turner Drive – named after its founder – and it’s as gleaming and huge as you’d expect.
It isn’t quite Times Square – but you’re left in no doubt that you’re at the centre of a massive communications operation arranged around an atrium which serves as a food court for the thousands of visitors flocking to the building.
In 2018 I came here for a tour of the studios, something of a busman’s holiday for a journalist – because just about every newsroom looks pretty much the same. But the scale of what happens here is astonishing; a domestic channel for the US audience, an international channel for the rest of the world, and a channel specifically broadcasting in Spanish.
In terms of specialist services, it’s not quite as big as the BBC, with its multitude of language services tailored for different global territories. The difference is CNN achieves what it does entirely through advertising revenue. While overseas readers of this blog may see commercials on their version of the BBC, in the UK it’s ad free.
March 2020, and newsrooms across the UK look and feel very different. The majority of colleagues are currently working from home, using technology like never before to make news programmes for TV and a whole range of output for the radio. It’s a testimony to their resilience and versatility that – at present – all outlets are broadcasting pretty much all of their normal output.
There is much less “on the road” for anything right now – but those crews who are going outside must balance the need to cover the stories while observing strict rules on social distancing. To that end, colleagues have “Key Worker” emails to show to the authorities should they bey stopped.
Yesterday President Trump expressed hope that the US could be “open by Easter” – as optimistic as it is perhaps foolish. And while the US hasn’t yet imposed the same kind of travel restrictions as the UK, it’s pretty much impossible to go any distance – and in most cities it’s impossible to visit a restaurant or bar. And yet, CNN still runs a live Travel Section on its website.
It all seems a bit odd – but if you’re not going anywhere right now, you might as well be dreaming of what could and might be in the future.