Expert Voice: CNN's Susan Grant on How Technology has Changed the News Business

By Debra D'Agostino  |  Posted 05-19-2006

Susan Grant knows a thing or two about technology. As executive vice president of CNN News Services, a division of CNN Worldwide, Grant is in charge the news organization's online and digital businesses, including CNN.com, CNN Newsource (with more than 800 affiliates) and CNN Radio. She recently spearheaded the launch of CNN Pipeline, an on-demand video service on CNN.com that offers multiple live news feeds. Most recently, she was named Woman of the Year in the Enterprise Business category by Women in Technology, an international organization that promotes women in business and technology. Grant recently talked with CIO Insight Senior Reporter Debra D'Agostino about the importance of technology in the news gathering business, and how technology will shape CNN in the future. What follows is an edited transcript of her remarks.

CIO INSIGHT: How important is technology at CNN?
GRANT:
Technology is critical, especially in our business. Newspeople can't worry about if the satellites are working or if there's enough bandwidth. They want to find accurate information and get it on the air.

If you go back to the beginnings of CNN in 1980, the strategy was to create a news organization that reported on world events, not just local or national news. So the ability to transmit real-time news and information all around the world—facilitated by satellite technology—was the centerpiece for how we have grown. Now, it's all about the use of existing technology that can be configured in innovative ways to make news gathering more efficient, to bring information across faster and make it more relevant to the user.

How do you make that happen from an organizational standpoint? Does each division have a CIO, for example?
Technology is a corporate function at CNN. We have one technology infrastructure for all of Turner Broadcasting, and it supports CNN and all the associate functions. It requires a high level of understanding for business and technology to work together to understand the possibilities. We are driven by the opportunities of technology, but we're also at its mercy.

How so?
Sometimes the future is a little further away than we wish it were. We aren't delivering content to mobile phones in the U.S. yet, for example, though we are overseas. But technology also offers many competitive advantages for us, whether it's through making use of smaller cameras, or mesh networks when we're covering hurricanes so we aren't dependent on cell-phone technology. We have two groups in our company that are involved in testing new systems and devices, driving us toward better innovation.

Can you share some examples of that innovation?
One is CNN Pipeline, our on-demand video service that launched last December. We love the idea of giving our audience control over what they see, and the opportunity to choose how they want to use our products. Some people prefer to read our Web site, for example, while others like to watch it from their laptops. CNN Pipeline was our first opportunity to market directly to customers, so there's a lot of ongoing learning. The fun part for us is the experimentation, the ability to try different things.

How do you see broadcast news changing as a result of new technology?
A lot of that depends on the consumer. I think people want things on demand, whether it's a podcast for their subway ride or a specific piece of streaming video. People choose what they want to see and how they wish to see it. So we are trying to be both thoughtful and progressive about how we approach each new platform, like video podcasting, for example. We don't want to just repurpose last night's show, for example. We are trying to make our content work for each particular platform.

With all the new methods of communication out there—podcasts, blogs, Web sites—how does CNN differentiate itself from its competitors?
Well, one thing that differentiates us, particularly from other online sites, is that we are more than just efficient aggregators of news. When you really want to know where a piece of information came from, we continue to be accurate, credible and trustworthy. Regardless of the platform, our responsibility is to tell the story in ways that are relevant, accurate, and mindful of our global audience.