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In what is being touted as a pioneering form of journalism training, the CNN Academy program last week staged a large-scale fictitious breaking news simulation using a movie set in Abu Dhabi and another facility in the city’s new Yas Creative Hub.

CNN for the first time brought 88 participants from its CNN Academy programs around the world together for an intensive week-long training during which a breaking-news situation was replicated so they could report on a fictitious developing story in what CNN described in a statement as a “safe to fail” environment. The simulation saw CNN trainees news gathering on a film set on the Khalifa Industrial Zone backlot of Twofour54 Abu Dhabi.

Twofour54 is the government entity that oversees the UAE’s capital city’s media and entertainment industry effort and is behind the new state-of-the art Yas Creative Hub located on Abu Dhabi’s artificial Yas Island where CNN’s Abu Dhabi bureau is located.

There and at the CNN bureau they interacted with real CNN journalists who were “playing the roles of eye-witnesses, activists and corporate representatives using a custom-built social media platform, attending mock press conferences and interviews, verifying sources, etc. before pitching to editors and producing packages,” a CNN statement said.

This form of training was devised by CNN journalists in tandem with Prof. Rex Brynen of McGill University, a leader in serious gaming, and Jim Wallman of game design company Stone Paper Scissors. The extravagant exercise “encouraged strategic thinking, team building, tact and decision making,” the statement noted. 

Aside from the simulation, the CNN intensive training also comprised masterclasses chaired by Becky Anderson, managing editor of CNN Abu Dhabi and anchor of “Connect the World with Becky Anderson.”

“This was a tremendous event, I’ve never known anything like it in the industry,” said Anderson in the statement. “It really replicated what it’s like to news gather in a different environment, working with new colleagues and uncovering information to get the facts and to the heart of a story,” she added.

Phil Nelson, COO of CNN International Commercial noted that since the launch of the first CNN Academy in Abu Dhabi they have trained over 350 participants in various programs worldwide.

“I am delighted for the inaugural newsroom simulation to be hosted in Abu Dhabi, as we take this initiative to the next level and further expand the way we train emerging journalistic talent and contribute to CNN’s legacy of unparalleled global news gathering and reporting,” he said.