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CNN is 43. Founder Ted Turner says the network's 'story is being rewritten'
More than 500 current and former CNN employees gathered in front of CNN Center in downtown Atlanta on Thursday for a photo to pay tribute to company founder Ted Turner and the revolutionary news network he built.
On June 1, 1980, CNN's first broadcast went to 1.7 million cable television subscribers across America. Now Turner Broadcasting's more than two-dozen branded networks and services reach two billion people in 200 countries, according to a letter released yesterday by Turner, now 84.
"I'm thrilled so many of you are here today to be memorialized in this landmark photograph that will celebrate CNN employees, past and present, coupled with an opportunity to connect and share stories of how you shaped CNN — and how CNN shaped you," Turner wrote.
The alumni event was not officially affiliated with CNN but brought former journalists from around the country as well as South Africa and the United Kingdom to celebrate the network's history as they posed with a life-sized cardboard cutout of Turner and the iconic red letters that stand in front of the entrance to CNN Center.
That building was sold in 2021, and CNN is migrating its Atlanta-based divisions to the company's office complex at Techwood Drive adjacent to the Georgia Tech campus, where the giant logo structure will be relocated later this year.
Although Turner, who suffers from Lewy body dementia, is no longer involved in the company — all of its assets now belong to Warner Bros. Discovery and CNN is run by current CEO Chris Licht — he is still passionate about the channel that first reported news 24 hours a day.
"In my launch speech at CNN's original Atlanta headquarters in 1980, I shared my vision for how CNN's national and international coverage would 'bring together in brotherhood and kindness, and friendship and in peace, the people of this nation and this world,'" Turner shared in the letter.
The network has come under scrutiny in the past few years for its political coverage — including a recent full-hour interview with former U.S. President Donald Trump — and scandals including previous CEO Jeff Zucker's relationship with a co-worker and the dismissal of host Don Lemon for remarks about women and aging.
But alumni insist the company's foundation is strong and its many accolades should be remembered, such as innovations in satellite broadcasting as well as historic reporting in the 1980s and 1990s that included live coverage of the student uprising at Tiananmen Square, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the war in Iraq, which garnered 1 billion viewers worldwide, the largest audience of a non-sporting or concert event in television history.
"Is there more work to do? Of course," Turner wrote. "CNN's story is being rewritten, just like the story of the world it covers in real time."
"As we gather here today to celebrate our proud camaraderie as a CNN family, I resist calling it 'end of an era," the letter continued. "Soon these three red letters will find a new home (just a few miles away) ... In many ways it is a homecoming of sorts — to its roots, where it all began in 1980. And let me remind you. The doubters said we couldn't pull it off. But with grit, tenacity and perseverance, we endured."
Turner's words then took a hopeful glance into the future: "…Our experiences and stories can be a spark to usher in innovation and integrity to the future of journalism," he wrote. "We must ensure a gold standard for democracy and truth."