What Legacy Will I Have? CNN Volunteer Reflects on Work with Teens

Gwen Anderson Warren
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As her family members back in the U.S. blinked sleep out of their eyes watching the 5 a.m. fireworks display on CNN, Gwen Anderson Warren, a sound technician for the global cable news outlet was on a rooftop in New Zealand blinking tears out of her eyes. It was January 1, 2000, and Warren was part of the CNN team bringing viewers the sights and the sounds of the 21st century as it dawned across the world.

“It occurred to me as we beamed these images across the globe that I was making history as a five-foot, two-inch tall African-American woman standing on top of a building, making it happen live,” Warren recalls 15 years later. “I was the only African American working as a sound tech during the that time. I knew that most viewers would just assume that a big burly man was doing the job. But I knew better.”

Now as a CNN senior editor and producer, Warren is dedicated to bringing her 25 years of experiences covering the world for the news network to VOX teens. In 2015, as part of Turner Broadcasting’s corporate responsibility outreach initiative, Warren is celebrating her fourth consecutive summer volunteering at VOX as part of our VOX Media Café summer camp where metro-area teens from all walks of life spend three weeks interacting and learning from Atlanta media professionals as they create a multimedia portfolio. When Warren was 17 and attending a performing arts high school in St. Louis, she participated in a similar summer program sponsored by the National Association for Black Journalists.

“The instructors saw my passion and my ability,” she explains. “I stood out to instructors … who helped me to recognize my potential. Volunteering at VOX is a great way for me to give back. I want to pass on the knowledge so the teens in this program can achieve the same things I have. As an African-American woman, I know how hard it was getting into the business of journalism. I want that struggle to be less for the next generation.”

Over the summers Warren and her Turner co-workers have spent as instructors “guiding on the side” at VOX Media Café in downtown Atlanta, the teen participants have fanned out across the city to create multimedia stories focusing on the Supreme Court marriage equality ruling, the George Zimmerman verdict, Georgia’s ongoing immigration challenges, Atlanta’s food truck boom and chronicling the opening of the Center for Civil and Human Rights.

This summer, the group Warren is working with is tackling the thorny subject of streaming music and its potential impact on the future of popular music. They shot the video interviews, grabbed sound and gathered some startling statistics but the teen video editors are uncertain how to put it all together into a two minute and thirty second news story. As the teen producers cluster around a iMac desktop in the VOX computer lab, Warren hovers behind them, listening intently.

“In our reporting we discovered that 75 percent of all Spotify users don’t pay for the music streaming service,” offers one teen. “Should we include that in our report?”

Now a veteran VMC instructor, Warren allows the question to hang in the air for a moment. Then, instead of answering the question, Warren poses one: “Is that a powerful statistic that’s going to have impact with the teens watching your report?”

The teens immediately set to work inserting the information into the story.

“My favorite moments at VOX are the moments when you see the light bulbs go off,” Warren says later. “Sometimes, the most important thing you can do is to step back and let them figure something out. As the adult in the room, they have a tendency to hold back, waiting on me to answer the question of  ‘Is this correct?’ I want them to incorporate their own creativity into the journalism guidelines they’ve been taught. I like to ask them, ‘What do you like? It’s not my story, it’s yours.’ When they realize they have all the necessary skill and ability, you begin to see their confidence begin to grow. That’s the greatest reward I can receive as a VOX volunteer.”

Over the years as a returning VOX Media Café media instructor, Warren has helped to grow the Turner volunteer ranks in the nonprofit’s earned revenue summer program. “I have a lot of CNN co-workers in my department here at VOX Media Cafe now,” she says. “That’s a great feeling. I’ve helped to bring new people into the program, and now we all get to come and have this amazing experience together. This is how you stay engaged not only in your career but in life. You’re going to meet some great young people, get introduced to other talented media professionals and work together to hopefully enhance some young futures. Not only are you bringing something of value to VOX but you’re also bringing something of value to your own life and back to your co-workers at Turner. It’s an invaluable experience and one I look forward to each summer.”

During the often hot and humid afternoons spent with today’s teen reporters chasing after quotes and the perfect time-lapse shot, Warren often remembers that NABJ summer program from her own teen years. Not only did it inspire a career in journalism but she landed an NABJ scholarship as well.

“As a teenager, it was so important to receive that push, that support, that encouragement, that pat on the back and that smile from an adult,” she recalls. “It’s my responsibility to pass that along to our next generation. When I look back at my 25 years at CNN, I realize I’ve learned a lot. When I’m gone, what legacy will I have? I want to pass on this information to other young people who may look like me and share my passion for journalism and communication. It’s our duty and our responsibility. The fact that being at VOX is so much fun is just a bonus!”

– By Richard L. Eldredge, VOX Staff. Gwen is pictured above at right at VOX’s inaugural event Girl Code, where she helped teen Thalia Butts edit video from the event.

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