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CNN’s Commendable “I’m Alive” Project

On Wednesday night, while watching 360‘s earthquake coverage, I was taken aback by Anderson Cooper‘s stopping, in the middle of his reporting, to read a name off of a sheet of paper. (That report is at left.) He explained that it had been handed to him earlier that day, from a Haitian who wanted to let his family know that he was alive. So Anderson read his name out.

The moment was very natural and quite surprising. In the midst of an internationally broadcast live feed, which must have cost Time Warner a substantial amount of money, Cooper passed on a message that couldn’t have been important to more than a dozen people, if they were watching. But if they were, and they got that message, it was the greatest news they are likely ever to hear.

CNN has since expanded these messages to the friends and families of survivors. They continue to add brief video messages to an iReport page, unfiltered and unedited, just so Haitians can say, “I’m here.”

It’s a hugely important and generous maneuver – one that, even as CNN promotes it, can’t help but be genuine. It is impossible to believe that this is a cynical move by CNN, any more than it is to believe that Cooper’s first few announcements were his premeditated attempt to garner sympathy. This is the Cooper we fell in love with during Katrina, and is why he’s the best disaster reporter on TV. What Cooper is exploiting is that television is still the world’s greatest social network – if you can get a voice on it. Cooper has his own Facebook in the form of CNN.

Imagine, though, if CNN (and the other networks) did more. Why not dedicate one commercial break per hour to simply scroll the names of survivors across the screen. The revenue they would lose is miniscule – and making even one connection between a stunned survivor and his panicked family would make it more than worth it.

Kudos are due to CNN for making this a part of their coverage. There’s really so little that any of us can do, leaving many of us fixated on donating $10 at a time through our cell phones. CNN has stumbled on something concrete and immediate, that will do something amazing – erase all of the worries of even a few people in the world.

That’s more than anyone can ask.

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