It’s been an astonishing year

2011-12-22 14:37

A few weeks ago, CNN gathered several of our international correspondents together in New York for a special programme looking back over the news events of 2011. Apart from being a perfect excuse to get this group of people into the same room, it was also one of the first opportunities many of us have had to draw breath after one of the most astonishing years any of us could remember.

Back in January, as flash floods overwhelmed Queensland in Australia, we could scarcely have predicted what the next 12 months would bring; while the powerful earthquake that shattered Christchurch in New Zealand in February now seems a lifetime ago. Both of these natural disasters were the kind of events that, in a normal news year, would have dominated any review of the big stories; but 2011 has been anything but normal.

The devastating tsunami in Japan and subsequent nuclear disaster; the death of Osama bin Laden, not in the mountains of Afghanistan but in a heavily fortified compound less than 50 kilometres from Islamabad; the Arab Spring, catching light with the overthrow of Tunisia’s government in mid-January, before spreading across the Arab world from Egypt to Libya, taking in the killing of Muammar Gaddafi and destabilising of decades-old regimes in Syria and elsewhere; the police overwhelmed by rioters in London; the chaos in Europe’s financial markets that led to the departure of Silvio Berlusconi and continues to threaten the existence of the euro; the global anti-capitalism protests that began with Occupy Wall Street; the terrible famine in Somalia; the presidential elections and protests in Russia; and in the past few days, the death of Kim Jong-il ... the list goes on.

For an international news organisation like CNN the challenges of a year like 2011 have been unprecedented.

Working out how to bring all of these major stories to our global audience has often felt like a fiendishly testing game of chess. Some of the key news events, such the EU crisis or the troubles in Egypt, have bubbled along for several months, occasionally coming to the boil, which has allowed us to plan a rotation of crews.

Equally, we’re fortunate in that our resources on the ground mean we can be there whenever a story breaks.

But working out how best to rotate our crews in and out has been a constant pressure, and carefully planning a rotation to make sure we can draft in the right resources to cover breaking stories has been essential.

Citizen journalism

One major feature of the year has been the impact of citizen journalism. The ascent of social media within the newsgathering process has been central to the way news has been reported; but it has also, particularly in events such as the London riots and the uprising in Cairo, been part of the fabric of the story. For a newsroom, the challenges this presents are manifold, not least of which is ensuring that what reaches our audiences is reliable and trustworthy.

Social media may mean that the process of newsgathering has changed, but the basic rules that underpin good journalism are more important than ever. Discipline, rigour and professionalism are vital when reports and rumours are coming from so many sources and with such speed.

CNN iReport, our own citizen journalism platform, now has a community of close to a million people and that has enriched our reporting in exciting and interesting ways. There’s no question that social media is a big part of the future of news, but I think this year has also shown that professional journalism is perhaps more important than ever.

Looking ahead to 2012 and, even without allowing for the unexpected, the pace is unlikely to relent. The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is shaping up to be perhaps the most significant in the event’s history; while the elections in France are taking on greater importance all the time.

In the world of sport Africa will be in the spotlight early on as the continent’s footballers convene in Angola for the Africa Cup of Nations, while Europe’s elite will be on show in Poland and Ukraine for Euro 2012. Elsewhere, London will be hoping to lift the atmosphere of austerity in time for the Olympics.

And, of course, there’s the small matter of the US presidential elections, which culminate in November’s big ballot. CNN will be covering all of these global events in depth and detail, but if 2011 is anything to go by, they may yet be mere footnotes in another dramatic year.

» Tony Maddox is executive vice-president and managing director of CNN International. Defining Moments 2011 can be seen on CNN International at 10pm New Year’s Eve

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