All About Media: They did it!

By Jen Martin

ATLANTA: How about come up with the next new programming idea for CNN? On January 24 of this year, that’s exactly what a Media Ops editor/producer by the name of Paul Chase did.

Let’s rewind to that cold January morning, Paul is driving into work when it hits him – an idea that’s totally new and different for CNN. An idea that’s edgy, young and fresh. An idea that will drive more viewers in a younger demo, and possibly generate revenue. An idea that requires a partner-in-crime as crazy and gutsy as he is.

When Paul get sot work, he pings his buddy Michael Senzon, an associate producer for CNN Pipeline, with an idea for an original, raw, behind-the-scenes video podcast, something CNN has NEVER done before. Michael loves the idea. They decide to sell it ALL the way up the food chain, straight to Jim Walton.

You're thinking, "Yeah right. There's no way these two guys pitched and sold this idea to Walton." Oh but they did. The email sent to Jim on January 24 at 12:40 p.m., was, if nothing else, therapeutic. Who knew this would happen:

From: Walton, Jim
Sent: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 5:37 PM
To: Chase, Paul
Subject: RE: Inside CNN VIDEO PODCAST, let's do it!
Pls call me to schedule a quick meeting.

Paul's reaction: "Oh no. What do we do now?" You take the meeting Paul!

"We walked in and Jim came from behind his desk and sat down right along with us at a table in his office. He sat and listened intently to every single word we said -- He never even checked his Blackberry."

Jim introduced them to several executives - namely David Payne, SVP and General Manager of and Sandy Malcolm, exec producer of video.

"The thing that struck me about Paul and Michael was their passion for the idea and their obvious commitment," said Sandy Malcolm. "I've been around this place long enough to know that to get something like this pushed through you really have to believe in it and be willing to see it through, no matter what - these guys had that. They even put on ties!"

As the project began to take hold, it became clear they needed something edgier.

That's when Jock's and Jill's happy hours began to make a contribution to editorial.

"We had to do our day jobs first... then the podcast development. At the end of the day, Jocks and Jills had food and a wireless internet connection! Paul and I also worked from home via I-chat video," said Michael.

Oh, and funny man Jarrett Bellini, a feeds coordinator in Media Ops who had, ironically enough, emailed David Payne about his interest in writing for back in January as well.

"I saw it as my lat ditch effort to make a name for myself before quitting my job to move to the Ozarks and grow out my beard," said Jarrett.

David replied with a simple "thanks". After a couiple of months, Jarrett decided to write a follow-up note. "I was sitting on my front porch typing up this email to Payne, and the phone rings," said Jarrett. "Lila Eidi (a producer) says that David recommended she get in touch with me about this new thing they're doing (a satirical podcast). He told hber I might be a good humor writer." And there you have it.

After just four months, this grassroots initiative has taken off with Podcasts like ALL ACCESS - a view into our reporters' worlds - and, to the dismay of many in upper management, "The Gryst," described as "a satirical look at some of the odd but true stories making news from around the world brought to you in an irreverent style you might not expect from CNN." Bottom line, it's funny and it's certainly not your Daddy's CNN.

"Beyond the high number of downloads or the eager sponsors, the best part to me is what Paul, Michael and Jarrett did," said Payne. "These guys took the initiative, and do the work on their own time - the passion they felt about this new venture was apparant and is exactly the kind of thing we need to foster innovation throughout the company."

Who knew that these three guys would helpd define a new medium for CNN, not to mention come up with that next new big idea?

To that point, Jim Walton says, "So much of what we do today at CNN must follow strict standards and guidelines, and while "The Gryst" is vetted like the rest of our content, there are times, especially in the new media revolution, when you have to take a risk, go with your gut, even if the idea seems crazy. Paul, Michael and Jarrett exemplify the creative risk-taking and guts CNN will have to succeed in the future." Well done, guys. Well done.

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