Ted Turner on the 'world's most pressing issue'

CNN founder also opines on the future of print media

NEW YORK -- The threat of nuclear weapons, the history of CNN and the future of print media and their possible transition to digital -- those were all topics that CNN founder Ted Turner tackled here Monday.

He gave a keynote interview at the Social Good Summit, organized by the 92nd Street Y and Mashable with the United Nations Foundation, in a session that was webcast.

Asked which media he feels produce good journalism in the digital age, Turner mentioned the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times as doing "a pretty good job," while the work of some others is "lousy."

But quality alone doesn't necessarily save print, he argued. "Print itself is just going to fade away fairly quickly," given the long and complicated process it takes to put print media together, Turner argued. "You're either efficient or not around," he said before highlighting that many people spend more time on Twitter these days.

Asked if digital business models can save the Journal and the industry, Turner offered: "[News Corp. CEO and Journal owner] Rupert [Murdoch] will maybe make the transition." Paid models could work for print media "if people want the information bad enough," he said. "It's the only hope for print."

He said that digital media is also pushing aside books in paper form in an age when young people in particular spend more time on devices.

Asked about what constitutes bad media in his view, Turner said: "I'm not a fan of sensational journalism" focused only on movie stars and who is breaking up with whom.

Asked about the world's most pressing issue, the man who donated $1 billion to the U.N. said: "The greatest single threat is nuclear weapons." The presidents of Russia and the U.S. can destroy the world with the press of a button: "That's not smart," Turner said. "I don't want that much power." And he said if he were in President Obama's shoes, he would complain about this dilemma.

"War is obsolete," Turner also said, arguing that it's no good "if you're bombing your customers."

Discussing malaria and polio, a key focus of his health initiatives, Turner said there has been progress. For example, last year, there were only five cases of polio, he highlighted.

Turner also had a couple of stories to share about the early years of CNN. "We sweated every payroll for seven years," he said.

"During my entrepreneurial career, I wore out four financial vice presidents -- one had a heart attack right in my office," Turner said and earned some laughs. "I had him lay down on the couch, and we got an ambulance to take him to the hospital, and I said, 'Get me a new financial vice president.'"
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