TVNewser spoke with CNN International EVP Tony Maddox this afternoon about the logistics of covering a massive disaster like the earthquake in Haiti.
Maddox tells us he has 40-50 people on the ground there now, which requires a lot of quick planning. “We immediately went into our breaking news mode,” Maddox said referring to when the first word came in about the earthquake. “We knew it was going to be a challenging place to get to. We knew it would be difficult under normal circumstances.”
“We did whatever we could,” he said. “We chartered a plane, helicopters. Got rides with NGOs. We acquired what trucks and vehicles we could find.”
He said CNN crews quickly pulled together equipment, kits, and satellite phones and teams were assembled. “We needed to give ourselves as many technical options as possible,” he told us. “We knew the secret to the story was to get on the ground as soon as we can and to get as many people on the ground as we can.”
Anderson Cooper was dispatched immediately. “Anderson, apart from being a high profile anchor, has a clear affinity for the country,” Maddox told us.
One of the notable moments in CNN’s early coverage was Sanjay Gupta‘s interview with Haitian president Rene Preval on Wednesday afternoon at the Port-au-Prince airport. “It was opportunistic,” Maddox said. “It wasn’t preplanned or produced in any kind of way. That kind of thing has its own power and immediacy.”
Getting on the ground quickly also had technical advantages. “I can understand why people had difficulties,” Maddox said, referring to some of the issues that the evening news broadcasts had. “We gave ourselves a number of options and we had first mover advantage: a lot of people and a lot of gear very quickly.”
Interestingly, Maddox admits that even as recently as two years ago, it would have been more of a struggle to put together the first night’s coverage with so little footage and reporting coming from Haiti. “[Social media] changed everything,” he said. “People will find a way to get their message out there.” At their morning meeting, CNN/U.S. president Jon Klein said that his network was seeing a return on the work they’d done in the social media sphere.
Maddox tells us his reporters are still in the “discovery phase of this story” and anticipates having a strong presence in the region into next week. “Next, we go into the recovery phase…and then we evaluate on a day to day basis.”