A year after Stewart blasted ‘Crossfire,’ volunteers say ‘On the Story’ is going strong

At Colonials Weekend 2004, comedian Jon Stewart made scathing attacks on CNN’s “Crossfire” that would ultimately change GW by playing a role in the program’s cancellation. When Stewart returned to GW for Colonials Weekend 2005 on Friday, he addressed the fateful Friday show that took the GW community by surprise.

“It wasn’t supposed to be seen as a call to arms,” Stewart said in an interview after his performance Friday night. “One of the things about it was that I had no idea it would be what it was.”

“You go to the source of something if you believe you want to fix it .

“I saw ‘Crossfire’ as the Mississippi of all talking points shows, so I thought I’d go and tell them it sucked,” he added.

In October 2004, Stewart accused “Crossfire” of “hurting America” and engaging in “partisan hackery” as opposed to responsible journalism. Despite his calls for the debate program’s demise, he avoided questions this past weekend about “On the Story,” the show that replaced “Crossfire” at GW.

“On the Story,” an hour-long program broadcast weekly by CNN, is dedicated to examining reporters’ experiences covering the week’s headlines. It uses the same studio in the Jack Morton Auditorium that “Crossfire” once called home.

Stewart isn’t the only one who has remained relatively silent about “On the Story.” Several GW media professors declined to comment on the show, saying they have not followed it since it began at GW.

Though GW can no longer boast of hosting the live CNN debate program, GW and CNN officials said its replacement is just as successful on campus, and students working for it in particular have applauded the program.

About 15 students volunteer at each taping after going through an orientation process to handle the shows’ audiences.

Heather Date, School of Media and Public Affairs building coordinating producer, said more than 2,000 people have attended “On the Story” since its debut at GW July 8.

The students involved with the show help with new duties each week in areas including seating audience members and helping with camera angling.

Senior Elizabeth Turkevich, who worked as an intern on “Crossfire” and now works at “On the Story,” said that while “Crossfire” had distinctive host personalities and more of a reputation, she likes “On the Story” better.

The program, taped Friday evenings in front of a live studio audience, moved to GW’s campus July 8 and employs a rotating host accompanied by an ever-changing panel of front-line reporters.

“Content-wise, ‘On the Story’ is more my thing,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I dream of being a foreign correspondent, so I love hearing how the different CNN correspondents report on the week’s top stories. I miss the live aspect of ‘Crossfire’ … but I don’t know how well it would work for ‘On the Story.'”

Turkevich also said the interns are able to do more for “On the Story” since it is not a live show.

“We are also given the opportunity to ask a ton of questions and see the production side of things,” she said. “This year, the volunteer program has grown even more and we are able to shadow CNN professionals as they work.” Two volunteers are sent weekly to the CNN Washington bureau to view and aid with the show

Even if the notorious screaming matches during the debate-styled “Crossfire” are long gone from the set, Michael Freedman, GW’s vice president of Communications, said “On the Story” is still generating plenty of excitement on campus.

“In some ways (‘On the Story’) is a better opportunity for students to learn about the reporting process,” he said “It’s a lab for GW students.”

Subjects highlighted on the show range from the war in Iraq to health issues to the world of blogs. The conversations, conducted at a slower pace than those on “Crossfire,” offer an in-depth look from those on the front lines themselves.

The program airs Saturday evenings from 7 to 8 p.m. and replays Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. on CNN. Tickets to the taping on Fridays are free. Edie Emery, a CNN spokesperson, said that while the network does not have any viewership numbers for this season for “On the Story,” the show is broadcast Saturday nights because “there no time available during primetime during the week,” and CNN thought people would enjoy to see it during the evening on Saturdays.

“There’s a lot of energy even though it’s taped,” said sophomore Jillian Burstein, a former “Crossfire” volunteer.

But David Grier, a GW professor in the Elliot School of International Affairs, said when he did watch “On the Story,” he didn’t think it fulfilled its purpose.

“I had always thought that it was the reality TV of journalism, a show that purported to show the true activity of journalism, but, like reality TV, show us a more dramatic version of journalism than really exists,” he said. “In the process, it seemed to shift the story away from the actual subjects to the reporters themselves and thereby reinforced the rock-star of the media.” n

-Maura Judkis and Katie Rooney contributed to this report.

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