Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A 360 View of Interning at (and Being Sacked by) CNN

Update: 3/10/08: So apparently Jossip suddenly remembered they did a post on this. For the actual story, including excerpts from Rachel's posts, see Eat the Press.

Hello everyone. Welcome to the first-time blog readers. I never do Meta posts, so this is a bit strange for me. I guess I would like to begin by apologizing to my regular readers. For over a month now, I have been lying to you by omission because I have had an indirect connection to Anderson Cooper 360 but never posted about it in any way. You see, in late January, my friend Rachel began an internship with 360, and she has been telling her friends about her experiences by posting to a closed-membership, password-protected community of which I am a member. I can tell you this now because last Wednesday, Rachel was fired for posting this information, which CNN’s HR department considered “unprofessional.” I have followed these posts (but of course never shared any of the information within them on my blog), and they truly were just a conversation among friends, no different than a talk over dinner or a phone conversation that begins with “how was your day?” And while we all recognize CNN’s right to fire anyone they employ, a little fairness, perhaps a warning, would have left a better impression of them as a corporation than summarily letting her go.

Before I move on, let me be perfectly clear about this online community. It is closed-membership and password-protected. We are very selective with our membership. New members are admitted by referral and after completing a short quiz. No, I’m not kidding (BTW, how’s that coming, Gabe?). The membership of this community is very media savvy. We’re not stupid. We did everything possible to ensure that Rachel’s posts never got onto the open internet where they could be picked up by someplace like Gawker or tvnewser. As far as we know, Rachel's posts never did get out onto the open internet, and how CNN found out remains a mystery.

That being said, Rachel knew there existed a remote possibility that the posts would be seen by an outsider, or even by a staffer at CNN. She wasn’t concerned, though, because she had nothing but the highest praise for the people she worked with, the company she worked for, and the product they were producing. Nor was she revealing anything that you couldn’t learn from walking into any newsroom in any network in the country, or naming the names of the non-public figures involved in the production of the show. Actually, as one of our members who works in television (though not at CNN) said, Rachel’s posts were excellent PR for the company. What’s ironic about that is that our community is so tight that upon news of Rachel’s firing, the anger at CNN from everyone there went through the roof. That night, Rachel told us that the firing did not make her cry, but the outpouring of support from the community brought tears to her eyes. So to CNN, way to anger your “base”! We know in terms of ratings that we’re not even a blip on your radar, but we also know that you care enough about us to make a whole 360 fan website and send press releases to this blog and others with which to promote your product.

However, as televisions across the country flipped off 360 in anger, Rachel reiterated to us over and over again that this was not 360’s fault and that we should not be mad at them. In fact, up until the moment she was sent to human resources, people from the show were still entrusting her with tasks and no doubt had no idea it was to be her last day. The person from the show who escorted her out had no idea why she was being asked to do so and was only concerned with Rachel’s well being. Neither Rachel nor the community knows exactly what happened or how CNN got a hold of her posts, but I must say that CNN has one hell of a creepy HR department. Big Brother is watching you! And here I thought I only had to worry about the NSA . . . Rachel was basically told that even though her posts were private, they will always make it to CNN somehow, and no, passwords won’t protect entries from their all-seeing eyes. Creepy.

The thing about this entire situation that upsets Rachel and the community the most is that there was no warning. HR could have called her down, told her they had found the posts, and asked her to remove them and not do it again. And she would have done that. Instead, she literally made a two-hour commute to 360, only to be tracked down a couple hours later and told she was canned.

This is, of course, not the first time that CNN has shown itself to be run by hair-trigger paranoids. One exercise in CNN paranoia occurred in late 2005 when changes were afoot with the CNN schedule and rumors were flying. It seems there was a leak that even spawned an investigation, which was hilariously blogged about by our friend Arachnae. And yes, that awesome quote is from yours truly. In another instance, a friend of a different Rachel, Rachel Sklar of Huffington Post’s Eat the Press, discovered CNN’s tendency to overreact the hard way after he did for her what seemed like an inconsequential favor. Turns out that CNN didn’t find it so inconsequential and immediately fired him. My friend Rachel, by the way, wishes she had known about this—if CNN has an official policy on staff blogging, it was never mentioned (you guys really need to get one of those). To be fair, there was a “disclosure of confidential information” policy, but it contained no definition of what was confidential. I read all of Rachel’s posts and no company secrets were disclosed. Nor did they contain negativity. In fact, I’m still in disbelief of how so many people in such a fast-paced work environment could possibly be so nice and helpful all the time.

What doesn’t make any sense is that firing Rachel with no warning was an extremely stupid and risky thing for CNN to do. They can’t fire her twice. She could have us spread the contents of her posts all over the Internet (not that anything in those posts would be anything but positive PR for CNN). Hell, she could have us forward them to Fox News. But Rachel is a person of integrity and would never allow us to do that. She would never want to hurt anyone who works at the show (and frankly, neither do I). How it all went down was just incredibly crappy. And as for calling her “unprofessional,” I’m sorry, but was it some other network that recently got into a childish ad war with Fox News over Anderson being compared to Paris Hilton? Yeah, they struck first, but what do you expect from them? Very professional, guys. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that when a Comedy Central intern created an open Internet blog freaking titled, “I’m a Comedy Central Intern,” he only got a warning. See, this is why Comedy Central is so much cooler than CNN. Among many reasons. (You can read that New York Times story by going to the link and scrolling down. I’m linking to this random blog so everyone doesn’t have to sign up with the Times.)

Rachel wants everyone to know that she’s not angry and that she had such a wonderful experience that she would do nothing differently. Obviously the firing was devastating, but she’s going to be fine. Though Rachel is grateful to the entire staff for the opportunities they gave her, she regrets not being able to say good-bye to those individuals who truly made the experience unforgettable by taking the time to treat her as someone worth valuing and teaching: Marshall, Alyssa, Mona, Jason and Jason, and Gabe. She’s also asked me to pass on thanks to Chuck, Julia, and Brittany for all their instruction and patience; to Beth and Bob on the fifth floor and Susan and Tom on the ninth; to Doss for being so kind, approachable, and open; to Joey and Meg for all their help and smiles; to Randi and Rene for the offer to shadow that she was never able to accept; and to Anderson, who may very well never have remembered her name but whose passion, brilliance, empathy, and drive inspired her to learn how she might one day be able to produce a show as excellent as his.

Rachel would also like to note that she never betrayed a confidence in any of her posts or discussions and apologizes if her actions hurt anyone in any way. If anyone from CNN would like to contact Rachel for any reason and does not wish to do so publicly in the comments, send me an email (in my profile) and I will forward it to her. I can promise you that nothing you say will ever end up on this blog or anywhere else. I cannot promise you that your creepy HR department won’t hack into my email. Word to the wise—email from home! But add something in the email that will allow Rachel to know it’s really you. Though there is no way to make this a happy ending, maybe she can at least get a little closure.

To my regular readers, I’m sure you are all just bursting with questions, and you’re free to ask them, but I’m very sorry that I will not be answering most. Yes, Rachel briefly met Anderson. Yes, she on occasion was able to see him working. No, I’m not going to go into any more details. I will tell you that he is extremely professional, polite, and hard working, but that’s all Rachel or I are willing to share. Though she actually has nothing juicy to report, it still just wouldn’t be fair to him. I hope you can understand. However, seeing as though a lot of you have a hate on for John Roberts and Kiran Chetry, I would like to note that Rachel was able to work with both of them and they are both lovely people, so . . . stop it.

I honestly don’t know what kind of reaction this post is going to draw, so I have taken the precaution of adding a guest to this blog to help me watch the comments while I am at the office. The comments will continue to post immediately, but Arachnae will be helping me to make sure everyone is on their best behavior. This post will remain at the top of the blog for a week in order to be found easily, but as of right now regular reviews will continue. For those reading this blog for the first time and wondering what it is exactly that you’re reading, you can see my first blog post for an explanation. Rachel and I would like to thank everyone for their time and we hope that this post will ultimately turn out to be a positive experience in what has been a negative situation. Thank you.

FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from