In recent years, Tony Maddox has been building up the international news operations of CNN that would play such an important role in the network’s recent coverage of the turmoil in Egypt and the Middle East. But in the early 1980s, the British-born chief of CNN International wasn’t dreaming of making his name in either Cairo or Atlanta.
“I was originally going to be the lead guitarist in the world’s most successful rock band,” jokes Maddox with characteristic wry humor. Plans changed, however, when he had a serious motorcycle accident, and his band dumped him to get a new guitar player.
“It was really quite fortunate, because I didn’t have any talent, and I was able to use the compensation payment to fund postgraduate courses in journalism,” he says.
That’s where Maddox found his groove. After landing a job with the BBC in 1985, he quickly rose through the ranks and by his late 20s, he was running a newsroom—highly unusual for the BBC in that era.
Similar success followed at CNN after he joined the network in 1998. By 2007, Maddox was put in charge of CNN International, arriving at the top post at a time when the global news business was facing serious economic issues. Many broadcasters had been cutting back on international bureaus for years, a trend that accelerated with the global recession, and the number of cable and satellite news channels around the world exploded, creating new competition for CNN.
“The cost of entry has gone down and a plethora of new news services have entered the market, so all the margins have been squeezed,” Maddox notes.
Many broadcasters have responded to these pressures by relying more heavily on acquired footage from the big news agencies. “There’s this attitude that we’ll run some agency footage for the story and then we’ll move on to something else that is cheaper and easier to do,” Maddox says.
CNN, however, took a very different path. Maddox began investing heavily in international newsgathering, adding six new bureaus. He also revamped the network’s programming, in part by adding more shows from different parts of the world.
Those efforts paid off in the recent coverage of the protests in the Middle East, argues Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide. “That’s a story that’s right in Tony’s sweet spot,” Walton says. “He’s very competitive and passionate about the news, but he also loves to lead people and get the most out of them.”
Thanks to its investments in international bureaus, CNN was able to move quickly to cover the protest in Cairo, drawing on both correspondents and a number of Arabic-language speakers who worked at its local offices and CNNArabic.com Website. “It allowed us to be on the ground before others realized the magnitude of what was happening,” Maddox says.
The push to produce more original news content has also paid off financially. CNN parent Time Warner doesn’t break out financials for its networks, but Maddox says that CNN International has seen double-digit revenue growth each of the last six years and is now “significantly bigger.”
Maddox’s duties expanded recently, when Walton put him in charge of both CNN’s international and domestic newsgathering efforts late last December. The move, Walton explains, was designed to speed up communications between U.S. and international desks during a big story such as the Egypt protests, and to make it easier for the company to quickly produce more cross-platform content.
“We’ve moved into an era where people are accessing CNN material on any number of devices, and we shouldn’t be thinking about stories as a domestic issue or an international issue,” Maddox says. “It’s a newsgathering issue.”
Despite the new responsibilities, Maddox still finds time to head down to St. George Island on Florida’s Gulf Coast with his family, ride motorcycles and play the guitars he now collects. “I still can’t play very well,” he jokes. “But eventually I had this epiphany. If I collected them, I wouldn’t have to claim I was buying them to play.”
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