CNN David McKenzie

CNN correspondent David McKenzie in Somalia

It has been an extraordinary year for news. As 2011 draws to a close we can look back at the year that was the last for Osama Bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi and saw the start of uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa.

Wherever stories broke journalists followed: reporting on floods in Australia, Brazil and Thailand; the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster in Japan; and famine in East Africa. This year has also seen shootings in Norway, the unravelling global financial crisis, a Royal Wedding, plus the UK riots.

Journalism.co.uk spoke to Tony Maddox, executive vice president and managing director of CNN International to find out how a global broadcaster copes when there is so much to report on, how it prioritises and decides where to send crews, and about the responsibility of having members of staff in dangerous situations.

We've had a few end of year meetings at CNN and none of us could recall a more intense, more demanding or busier news period than this one in terms of the range of stories, geographical locations and logistical challenges we have been faced withTony Maddox
"I think it's been the most demanding year we can remember", Maddox said. "I think it's been the succession of big stories, of differing types, in different locations and the sequence with which they all unfolded.

"We've had a few end of year meetings at CNN and none of us could recall a more intense, more demanding or busier news period than this one in terms of the range of stories, geographical locations and logistical challenges we have been faced with."

Looking back on the year Maddox said: "If I'm proud of one thing this year it's the way in which we have gone from one story to the next. We've gone from the uprisings in the Middle East, without missing a beat, to the disaster in Japan. That's the mark of a great news organisation."

Without naming other broadcasters he praised them, acknowledging that CNN is not the only news outlet to rise to the challenges of 2011.

And with so many major news stories CNN has found "very, very significant growth" in daily, weekly and monthly reach both online and in terms of viewer numbers.



'Defining Moments 2011' can be seen on CNN International at 8pm on New Years Eve


Asked if there have been situations during the past year where CNN has had to take a decision not to cover an event due to overstretched resources and the pressure of so much news, Maddox said at no point had that arisen.

"We have very big resources at CNN and we are in a much more fortunate position than many other news organisations in that regard in as much as we can cover a lot of stories at the same time. We have a very big reporting core and tremendous logistic resources that we can call upon in terms of broadcast technologies, camera people, producers and back-up reporters."

Staying safe

One of the biggest challenges of the year for all news outlets has been journalists' safety. CNN, like other organisations, had journalists trapped in the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli and had to make quick decisions when reporters faced nuclear uncertainty in Japan.

"Things got very heavy for us in Egypt," Maddox said. "We had staff beaten up, kicked, spat upon, pushed around. There were two or three days there where that became a real challenge for us on the ground. There was no real safe haven for us as the security forces turned on us and the crowds became unruly in some parts."

Keeping our folks safe and well this year and bringing everyone back in one piece has been a major achievement and we are very proud of that and very relievedTony Maddox
In Japan CNN was faced with the "alarming" radiation risks and decided to commission and fly in their own experts and safety equipment.

"Quite frankly we hadn't dealt with a major radiation-scare story on that scale for a long time. So we were dealing with what is, by any definition, a challenging place to be: post earthquake, post tsunami, where the infrastructure is so profoundly damaged it's very difficult to work out of and then we had this radiation risk which we didn't really know the scale.

In Libya the situation was "very unpredictable", Maddox said, when CNN’s own correspondents, Matthew Chance and Jomana Karadsheh, became part of the news, trapped in the Rixos Hotel

"They were effectively detained and unable to get out of the hotel for days and they were surrounded by scared armed guards.

"Keeping our folks safe and well this year and bringing everyone back in one piece has been a major achievement and we are very proud of that and very relieved."

CNN's citizen journalists

During 2011 CNN has continued to gather and broadcast iReports, video reports submitted by citizen journalists, publishing around 15,000 a month.

"It is some of the most vivid reporting you will get, some of the most authentic reporting you will get and certainly some of the fastest first-person reporting you will get is delivered via iReport.

"This has been a major innovation for us, if we look at how we cover stories now and how we covered them just a few years ago.

"You combine that with people on the ground, your own reporters, and you really have a very potent mix."

Maddox also sees providing a platform for eyewitness citizen reports as a vehicle for change.

"It's an important social role, particularly in countries in the Middle East where the governments were trying to clamp down on journalists and the voice of the people. The fact is the voice of the people will be heard and social media has been tremendous at being able to enable that."

From 2011 to 2012

CNN will of course be covering next year's elections in the Arab world and will continue to report updates from Japan. Asked whether 2012 will see CNN correspondents revisit some of the locations of the big news stories of 2011 for one-year-on type stories, Maddox said: "We will but, to be honest, these stories are not over. What happens next is far from clear – and is fascinating."

Tony MaddoxTony Maddox is executive vice president and managing director of CNN International, based in Atlanta.

Before joining CNN International in 1998, Maddox was head of news and current affairs for the BBC in Northern Ireland.

In 13 years with the BBC, Maddox was a reporter, news producer and news editor.

For more from CNN see Journalism.co.uk's interview with Ben Wedeman on Reporting the Arab Spring

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