Thursday, July 24, 2008

Multimedia Journalism Milestone on CNN

Those of us who research, teach, follow closely the area of media diversity have been eagerly awaiting what happened Wednesday night on CNN.

Black in America,a two-part documentary hit the airwaves and broadcast journalism with a slam.

I'm not usually one to lavish a media outlet with praise. But I think CNN's producers and photographers, the entire documentary staff deserve the pat on the back when you look at the breadth and depth reflected in Part I of this journalism effort.

According to Soledad O'Brien (who was interviewed on My Urban Report), the idea for the documentary was the brainchild of her bosses, Mark Nelson (Vice President and Senior Executive Producer of CNN Productions) and Jon Klein (CNN President).

I show those guys pictures because an important ingredient in a major effort like this is the commitment of management of staffing resources, man (or to be more politically correct "person" (hours) for months of reporting.

According to O'Brien the CNN Management felt that African-Americans were featured in coverage that was too shallow.

I agree. That's a problem with coverage of most racial minorities in this country.

The important thing to recognize, as it was indicated in CNN's promotions, this was not a show for African-Americans to see themselves.

It was a production for ALL Americans to see what their fellow citizens experience every day.

The sheer number of stories that were told in the two hours was unprecedented. And, the tensions and troubles that were unearthed in the interviews was exactly what was needed to tell the "full story."

My favorite story was one about the biracial couple-- The Rasmussens (I'm not sure I spelled their name correctly) who had a biracial son who identified with his white father, who told him he is actually both black and white.

The Rasmussens' struggle over the racial identity question is one that our entire nation will struggle with if, in fact, a man from biracial parents is elected to the White House.

While the over-the-air documentary was GREAT journalism-- the multimedia presentation of this story on CNN's Web site is worthy of note. The entire series of iReports from several historically black colleges is worth looking at.

After the special aired on Wednesday, I must have spent a couple of hours looking at the Web-only reports, extended interviews and the feedback.

That's after I watched the preview for the two-day documentary on iTunes last (Tuesday) night.

CNN has set the bar pretty high for part two.

We'll see what happens.

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