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Editor’s Note: Encyclo has not been regularly updated since August 2014, so information posted here is likely to be out of date and may be no longer accurate. It’s best used as a snapshot of the media landscape at that point in time.

CNN is an American television news network, the first 24-hour news channel on television.

CNN is owned by the media conglomerate Time Warner, under the Turner Broadcasting division. It includes a number of specialized channels, including HLN (formerly known as Headline News), and CNN International.

CNN was founded in 1980 and soon became extremely influential within broadcast journalism, essentially inventing the 24-hour news network and even affecting U.S. foreign policy through its impact on public opinion.

About half of CNN’s revenue comes from cable subscription fees, while the other half comes from advertising and other sources. Digital advertising and sales account for about 10 percent of the network’s revenue. CNN says its profits have been in double digits each year since 2004, though it has not provided exact figures. It was reported to be on track for a record $600 million profit in 2012. Its gross advertising revenue was reported to be $379.5 million in 2012, making it the 23rd-largest basic cable network in that category. In 2014, Turner Broadcasting announced it would offer 600 buyouts across its properties, with layoffs expected to follow.

CNN’s most prominent personalities include Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer, Jake Tapper, and John King.

CNN’s ratings fell sharply after the 2008 elections, dropping to third among American cable news networks, behind Fox News and MSNBC, and continuing to fall since then, with primetime ratings hitting a 21-year low in 2012. It does retain relatively strong viewership outside of primetime, and during breaking news events. NBC veteran Jeff Zucker was named CNN’s top executive in 2013 and began emphasizing somewhat lighter news and opinion, eventually proposing a shift away from news in prime-time. This drew accusations of tabloid journalism, though ratings began to improve.

As its competitors have moved toward opinion and advocacy journalism, CNN has emphasized its non-ideological approach, billing itself as “the only credible, nonpartisan voice left.” That approach has been criticized by some for creating a forced, false balance between viewpoints or as lacking an identity. Others have praised CNN’s fact-based philosophy, particularly in the wake of breaking news. More recently, however, CNN’s coverage of breaking news has been criticized, especially after it reported erroneous information after the Boston Marathon bombing of April 2013.

CNN has a larger newsgathering operation than either Fox News or MSNBC, a staff of about 4,000 as of 2010. It was seen particularly during the 1990s as television’s “equivalent of a paper of record.” In 2008, CNN launched a newswire to compete with The Associated Press, and it canceled its AP subscription in June 2010, though it uses Reuters for supplemental breaking news coverage. It formerly ran a radio service, which was shut down in 2013.

In 2012, CNN created a documentary unit called CNN Films, which has made several highly viewed and well reviewed films. It has also announced plans to create a syndicated Spanish-language programming service. CNN also has a Arabic-language site that it relaunched in 2014.

In May 2010, CNN and CBS News were reportedly in talks to pool their newsgathering operations, though a full-fledged merger was considered unlikely. The two organizations had also been rumored to be discussing a partnership previously, in 2008 and 1999, and CNN also considered a merger with ABC News in 2003.

CNN has been known for its gadgetry in election coverage, including a multitouch wall and holograms. It also began highlighting political blogs on air in 2005, one of the first broadcasters to do so.

CNN began working with Nielsen and Arbitron in 2013 to create measurements for home and cross-screen viewing called CNN All-Screen.


CNN.com was the first cable news network website to launch in 1995, and it remains the largest website of any American news broadcaster and one of the largest news sites on the web with 67 million monthly users in 2013. CNN also has the largest mobile news site on the web, with 14.8 million unique visitors, and saw about 40% of its traffic from mobile devices in 2013. It has also seen tremendous growth in its online advertising. In 2013, CNN was the most-shared traditional news organization on Facebook and the third-most-shared overall. CNN launched a unit in 2014 called CNN Digital Studios dedicated to producing digital video.

CNN had a digital politics staff of about 20 in 2014, with plans to double that number for the 2016 elections. It restructured its digital politics unit later that year, scrapping its Political Ticker blog.

CNN has moved into local news coverage, investing in the local news platform Outside.in and using it for online local news coverage provided by affiliate TV stations. Outside.in has since been purchased by AOL.

CNN has incorporated citizen journalism through its iReport project, launched in 2006. The network decided in 2008 that iReport should be a legitimate part of its newsgathering, turning it into its own portal, and it has supplemented CNN’s coverage of breaking news events. About 15,000 iReports are made each month, many through CNN’s critically acclaimed iPhone app. CNN has also partnered with several universities for a student iReport project. The broadcaster also coordinated presidential debates with YouTube featuring user-submitted video questions in 2007.

Its website has also drawn criticism for a focus on trivial news.

CNN has had, at various points, Twitter’s most popular news account, which was created in 2006 by a user. CNN was attacked by Twitter users in 2009 for not devoting sufficient coverage of social-media-driven protests in Iran. It partnered in 2014 with Twitter and the social analytics firm Dataminr to help uncover breaking news on social media. It planned to launch a Twitter-oriented short-form news show called Your 15-Second Morning in 2014.

CNN has worked with other social networks, as well: It ran an integrated Facebook feed with its live inauguration feed in 2009 and cooperated with Facebook on an “I’m Voting” app in 2012, and in 2013, it created an Instagram-based photo platform called Scenes from the Field. CNN’s HLN network shifted to a social media-centric focus in 2014. In 2007, CNN created a bureau in the online virtual community Second Life.

From 2005 to 2009, CNN offered continuous live, anchored webcasts. It also launched a YouTube channel with BuzzFeed in 2013, with video designed to be shared via social media. CNN charged for streaming video from 2002 to 2005, but has otherwise offered its content for free. CNN also launched a free iPad app in December 2010.

In 2014, CNN began a joint research project with the Georgia Institute of Technology to study the use of drones in reporting.

In 2011, CNN bought Zite, a personalized iPad magazine. Its executives said Zite would operate as a separate unit and help CNN improve its mobile content. CNN sold Zite to its competitor, Flipboard, for a small stake in Flipboard in a deal that involved no cash. The news reader launched a publisher partnership program in early 2012 and also launched versions for the iPhone and Android tablets and smartphones, as well as for Google Glass.

CNN.com’s sports content had been produced by fellow Time Warner-owned property Sports Illustrated through a longtime relationship between the two brands that began in 1996 with the launch of the CNN/SI television network, which lasted through 2002. In 2013, however, CNN shifted its sports content to a partnership with Bleacher Report, which Time Warner’s Turner subsidiary had bought the previous year.

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Primary author: Mark Coddington. Main text last updated: August 28, 2014.
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