September 9, 2009
Posted: 2034 GMT

Tonight at the I-Desk, you witnessed I-Desk's coverage of breaking news, at its finest. Here's what happened, behind the scenes:

About 5 minutes after the show started, we got word of the hijacking in México. At first, we heard it had happened in Cancún. Turned out, it was actually in México City. As soon as we heard about the possibility of the hijacking, I told Michael Holmes, who filled in for Hala tonight. That way, he would be aware that we were working on the story.

Once the hijacking was confirmed by CNN, we ended our Stephanie Elam liveshot, to bring you the news. Unfortunately, Michael did not have much information to report. So, we took a quick commercial break.

Literally, two seconds before we came back on the air, we received instant translation of our affiliate, TV Azteca. Just so you're aware, our producer, Mayra Cuevas, was the person translating. She did an excellent job!!! Without her voice and efforts, it would have been difficult to bring you the latest, as it happened.

For the next 35 minutes, we stayed on Mayra's translation of TV Azteca. Other CNN affiliates, including Televisa, also covered the story. When we received their live pictures, we showed them to you on the I-Desk Wall.

While that was going on, Michael jotted down notes, watched the coverage closely, and waited for our next move. That move was to wait until the situation seemed to be resolved, then turn to Michael for a quick wrap-up.

That's exactly what we did. We waited until the alleged hijackers were put in the police paddy wagon, then Michael wrapped up the story and tossed to Becky Anderson, for the start of "Connect the World".

Hope you enjoyed it... Tomorrow is sure to be another busy day, at the I-Desk!

See you then!
J the P

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Filed under: Behind the scenes •Mexico

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April 24, 2009
Posted: 1452 GMT


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Filed under: Behind the scenes •I

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April 17, 2009
Posted: 1509 GMT

The drug underworld does have a certain dangerous charm.

I’ve lived in Mexico then Colombia for more than 14 years and have drunk beer with cocaine traffickers and hung out in the slums with their hitmen.

I’ve met narcos’ wives, girlfriends and widows – surgically-inflated, divinely dressed shopaholics – and know accountants and businessmen who launder their ill-gotten gains.

Like most people, I have many professional, working friends who are self-described recreational drug users who enjoy cocaine, marijuana and an assortment of pills.

None of these characters likes to talk much about it in public. It’s an industry and a habit that thrives best in the shadows.

But my point is that millions of ordinary and not so ordinary people are connected in some way to the drug trade. Putting thousands of soldiers and police on Mexican streets, in the Colombian jungles or along the U.S. border is not going to solve that.

My month-long trip through Mexico took me first to Juarez – scene of a bloody turf war between the Juarez and Sinaloa Cartels, through Reynosa, stronghold of “los Zetas” cartel hit squad and to Sinaloa state, cradle of Mexico’s marijuana and heroin plantations and birthplace of its most notorious capos.

When cartel hitmen chase you out of Mexican border towns at gunpoint and you see bodies dumped on a main street in broad daylight with their brains blown out, you’re under no illusions that the drug trade is an ugly, brutal business.

When you see a prominent lawyer lying slumped dead over the wheel of his Mercedes Benz at a busy intersection in downtown Juarez, you can begin to imagine the scale of human suffering the drug war is bringing.

But when you see a sparkling Hummer truck glide by, or glimpse the ornate and spacious homes (and equally extravagant tombs) and hear cowboy musicians singing the praises of drug kingpins and the heroics of their latest shootouts – you can see what I mean about the dangerous charm.

Now if you’re down on your luck – a teen tearaway living on a dead-end street, or a peasant farmer getting a pittance for beans and corn –you can maybe understand the lure of easy money.

That said, as I hung out on a dimly-lit street corner with young gang members in Juarez or chatted with a gravedigger in a Culiacan cemetery, it became apparent the money was not so easy.
“It’s easy money…until you die,” a gang member called “El Bolis” told me. Graveyards were full of the tombs of young men who met untimely deaths.

“It’s all about time. If you kill somebody, somebody will kill you. Somewhere, somehow, they will catch you,” said gravedigger Jesus Gaston.

But just as some of Latin America’s poor are hooked on the prospect of easy money, politicians seem hooked on cheap talk and easy targets.

The prime targets in Washington and Mexico’s much vaunted drug war are the young hitmen and their drug smuggling paymasters.

But I hear little talk in Mexico or from the Obama administration about taking the war to the doorsteps of the people who are putting the bullets in the barrels of the cartels’ guns.

That’s the industrialists who launder dirty money, the politicians who protect the capos, the bankers who transfer their cash from Europe and the U.S. back to Latin America and, of course, the drug users.

A bag of “blood cocaine” or “blood heroin” in Europe or the U.S. costs several dollars; bullets in Latin America cost just a few cents.
Africa gave the world blood diamonds. Latin America is giving the world blood cocaine, blood heroin and even blood marijuana.

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Filed under: Behind the scenes •Drug Wars

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April 10, 2009
Posted: 1237 GMT

Check out the footage we shot on our flipcam! Hope you enjoy!

Filed under: Behind the scenes •CNN •I

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April 8, 2009
Posted: 1835 GMT

Life inside the I-Desk Control Room is usually pretty hectic, because of all the different live reporters, who contribute to the show every day.  On average, we have about 10 "live shots," as they're called in the TV biz.  With each of those "live shots" come different obstacles, including losing the feed, not having audio, or the reporter not being able to hear Hala.  So, as you might imagine, it can get a bit hairy, when certain "live shots" fall through the cracks.

Add breaking news to that madness, and believe me, it's one of the wildest adrenaline-packed rollercoaster rides you've ever witnessed.  And, that's exactly what happened today.

Right before I-Desk started, we received wire reports that the kidnapped Americans off the Somali coast had retaken control of their ship.  But, CNN had not confirmed those reports.  As a result, while you were watching Fionnuala Sweeney update the world on the earthquake aftermath in Italy, we were feverishly monitoring a news conference by the CEO of the hijacked ship's company.  We went to that "presser" for a couple of minutes.  Then, over at the Pentagon, our Chris Lawrence was making his own phone calls.  And in Bahrain, our other Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, was trying to confirm the reports, through her own sources.  It was shear madness!

Eventually, Chris confirmed the report.  Within seconds, he told CNN's U.S. viewers on our sister network.  And, as he was speaking on the other channel, our Executive Producer was listening in, and telling Hala the details in her ear.  And, she told YOU!

All the while, we were trying to figure out if Barbara was available to update OUR viewers, while Chris told the American audience.  That's where the audio and video issues come in.  Barbara was still on the phone.  Her satellite feed wasn't extremely clear.  Etc. Etc.  So, what did we do?  We went to our Stan Grant, live in Dubai.  He, too, was monitoring the situation all day.  And, a little later, we went to Chris live at The Pentagon.  Again, it's a virtual rollercoaster ride.

With every one of those last-second decisions, there are massive consequences, which affect how you see the story.  Essentially, every time a live shot doesn't make air, or we have to change things around, the "Wall Team" has to adjust.  That way, the different images you see on our Wall are accurate.  Of course, that takes time.

So, a little bit of a behind-the-scenes I-Desk secret - most times that you see a reporter, a live picture, or video in full screen, there's a good chance the "Wall isn't ready" (that's what the "Wall Team" yells out).

Believe me, they're total professionals, and some might say, perfectionists... So, it might take a few extra seconds; but, what you'll eventually see on the Wall will be perfect!

Alright, that's the latest Behind-the-Scenes Moment... Until the next time, see you at the I-Desk.

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Filed under: Behind the scenes •I

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April 2, 2009
Posted: 1742 GMT

Did you see it, during today's I-Desk??

We did a live shot with our good friend, Richard Quest, who was live at the Excel Center in London.  The goal of the hit was to analyze the G20 Summit.  Was it a success?  Of course, Richard answered that flawlessly.

Then, our plan took a bit of a detour.

Hala brought up Michelle Obama's apparent faux pas, when the U.S. First Lady half-hugged the Queen, during Wednesday's reception at Buckingham Palace.  The moment was caught on camera.  And, minutes before I-Desk started, the Palace released a statement, calling it a "mutual and spontaneous display of affection."  So, we decided to ask Richard about it, since he's our resident royal expert.

And, in typical Richard fashion, he demonstrated the half-hug, by dragging correspondent Paula Newton into the camera shot.  It was HILARIOUS!!  As you might imagine, the moment was completely unplanned... and, you could tell from Paula's jovial reaction.

Then, once that was done, Quest was simply just Quest.  He stopped in mid-sentence.  The entire control room, and Hala in the studio, were not sure what he was about to do.  Then, out of nowhere, Richard brought over European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, for a quick live interview. 

From our side of things, a planned 3 minute segment turned into 6 minutes.  But, no complaints from me.  It was great television!!

I hope you saw it... If not, don't worry.  Keep it tuned to I-Desk every day, because I'm sure we'll have plenty more.

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Filed under: Behind the scenes •G20 •I

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April 1, 2009
Posted: 1814 GMT

From left to right: Mike Callahan, Steve Fineberg, Marc Abernathy, Jeff Marcosky, Terri Elmore, Hala Gorani, Javier de Diego, Candace Pickett, Zach Pontz, Matt Lingerfelt, Heather Sinclair

Filed under: Behind the scenes •I

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March 30, 2009
Posted: 1804 GMT

U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement that 4,000 more troops would be sent to Afghanistan (on top of 17,000 he's already promised to send) wasn't a small affair what with a highly public press conference held to announce it.  

And it also drew a strong response from all of you who come here to share your thoughts and participate in our poll. Below we wanted to highlight some of your thoughts on this subject from the past week. Some comments have been edited for length:

The situation over in the Middle East will never change. So do something else with the money that is being spent on that situation over there. Give it to the American people! (Yeah, right!)
Like I stated in another article, give money to senior citizens that are working, so they can retire. They can pay of their mortgages, buy American made car, put the rest in savings, stop giving them social security. That would then help the economy, create more jobs and help or even stop giving social security.



I'm living in Iran,I'm suffering from the same ideology of my compatriots but the main thing is that this ideology is not gonna be defeated by war,bombs,troops,the people are step by step getting away form the ideology because the new generation understands that this islamic beliefs are not gonna work in the modern society,the only thing the western countries should do is to guide the people into new things,correct ones. Because most people when they get new ideas,they dont get correct ones.



I understand people desperation because of the economical crisis, but we can't forget that are people in the world that are in worst living situations then ours...Social help is need for countries like Afghanistan. It will probably help more to battle Al Qaeda then by simply reinforcing the numbers of military there.
People who are hungry, who have lost everything, and in addition, who live with daily violence and war, are easier to be recruited by any terrorist movement. Al Qaeda probably promises those people the social, economical and even spiritual help that others refuse to give them...
It's great you have a job, you can pay your house rent, by a car... but at the end... will the misery of others make you feel safer and better despite all you have?
When the world will understand that it's not enough that we have a great life between the boards of our country, when there are others struggling to survive, fighting for human rights, fighting for land, religion, or justice... fighting simply to be alive?



Filed under: Behind the scenes •CNN •Comments •I

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March 26, 2009
Posted: 1857 GMT

It seems Twitter's the new thing now. Everybody's doing it– or at least every body who's anybody ( I mean come on Hala has a new account-which I'll comment on...just wait). Or perhaps it's just anybody who is paying attention to what everybody seems to be doing when in all actuality it's really a small minority who are actually doing it. Whatever. In the news world anything techy that can help reach viewers is latched onto with a revelatory glee thus becoming transformative, interactive and ultimately bilateral. Whatever.

 I got into an argument the other night with a few people who work at CNN.Com. They were promoting the idea that Twitter is self-reflective. In other words it allows us to be more cognizant of what we're doing and of the world around us. I don't know if I buy that. In fact, I really don't buy that. And even if it were true why must we compress our observations into a 140-character, language-deforming entry. I don't eat my food and then go and cook that same food for everybody so they can have a taste too. What happened to privacy and personal experience?

 But being the upbeat and cheerful person that I am (injecting the clichés here) always looking at 'the glass half-full' or the 'money well spent' I've chosen to embrace the concept for reasons I will summarily list:

 First of all, it blurs the societal walls of celebrity that have become our own class-system. Anyone can sign on and 'follow' anybody else. This means you, normal person, can interact with Mr. A-list celebrity on an equal footing. On Twitter we're all equal, we are all reduced to a scant word max. Yes, we can now all communicate without fear or embarrassment of our level of education, fame, bank account size or of getting a restraining order.

 Secondly, and more importantly here, as a news platform it's unequivocally priceless. The real-time response it allows is essential to breaking down the fourth wall of TV. Unlike Facebook or Myspace, it reduces social-networking to verbal (or really written) interaction at it's most simple levels.  I write something, you write back. We correspond. No photos or quizzes or walls. It cuts out the convoluted interface. Instead of the site being the star the user is.

 So now, Hala, as I said earlier, has become a Twitterer (yes it's a noun that I imagine will be in Webster's Dictionary soon enough with its own special category, right there with Googler.) She denies her addiction but it's very real. And it will only get worse. So in order to satiate her burgeoning lust (and in order to chat with her) you can find her-if you too are a twitterer-under her name. Yes easy enough, we all know it.

And maybe I too will get on twitter. But I doubt it. I don't really pay attention to much.

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Filed under: Behind the scenes •CNN •I

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March 13, 2009
Posted: 2052 GMT

It seems like Hala exists in a self-sufficient bubble when she’s on the set. But in fact, there’s a swarm of individuals running around her, making sure she has everything from her soda light– which during commercial brakes is all but sutured to her hand—to positioning the cameras for each respective shot.


First there’s Alice, who works the lighting board.  Each different camera shot of Hala has its own dedicated lighting cue. For example, when she turns to the wall to talk to a correspondent, the lights must be turned on and the lights for the shot she is turning from must be brought down (in order to avoid shadows, over-lighting etc…). This is Alice’s job. She stands at the lighting board—which controls every one of the dozens of lights hanging from the ceiling—commanding and manipulating the sliding knobs.


 Not all television studios have their lighting boards so saliently displayed in their studios.  But luckily, CNN International’s is right in the middle of things, and we get to have Alice hanging about, spreading her warmth and materteral presence amongst the crew.


Secondly there’s Heather. She runs prompter, which is the machine that scrolls scripts into the camera screen, allowing Hala to look into the camera while reading words slowly scrolling in front of her. Heather also helps collate scripts between breaks—along with Alice—so that they’re in Hala’s hands by the time we’re on air. Alice is a dear and you should all get to know her and be her best friend.


Last but not least, there’s me–Zach. I am the floor director. My job is to give time cues and to make sure Hala knows which camera she will be on. Basically, I am the physical intermediary between Hala and the control room (where the director and producers sit.)


As they’re perched up there, hidden away in their cave– imperious and incorporeal voices command and direct me to carryout their tactile dirty-work. Also, along with Alice, I must move the cameras throughout the studio when specified shots are called for.


I carry out my duties with varying degrees of success, but I certainly can’t be blamed for lack of charm or for my willingness to sing harmony when Hala launches into a random song that hasn’t been heard since it charted at #3 in 1958 on American Bandstand.


So there you have it, the “floor crew.”  Think of us in your prayers and have a good weekend.

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Filed under: Behind the scenes •I

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International Desk brings viewers into the heart of the largest news gathering operation in the world. Viewers don't come here to watch the news; they come here to be immersed in it. To feel the rush of being the first to know what's happening as stories break, and to leave knowing they've gotten the best and latest information available. The show airs Mon-Fri at 1900 CET.

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