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Boom/Bust Podcaster Questions the Ethics of CNN's HQ Trivia Documentary

Alyssa Bereznak is calling out similarities between the project and her own coverage of the app’s demise.
  • The HQ Trivia app, as seen in CNN's upcoming documentary (Photo: Glitch: The Rise and Fall of HQ Trivia)
    The HQ Trivia app, as seen in CNN's upcoming documentary (Photo: Glitch: The Rise and Fall of HQ Trivia)

    At the height of HQ Trivia’s popularity, more than 2.3 million people were tuning in live to compete. But despite the game’s massive appeal, the app came and went with little explanation as to why it disappeared. CNN’s new documentary Glitch: The Rise and Fall of HQ Trivia, airing Sunday, March 5 at 9:00 PM ET, digs deep into what went wrong at the trendy tech company and details of HQ Trivia co-founder Colin Kroll’s death. Alyssa Bereznak, a staff writer and podcaster at The Ringer, is calling out CNN ahead of the documentary’s premiere for potentially unethical practices in making the documentary.

    The HQ Trivia app debuted in 2017. Twice a day, the app would send out push notifications telling users that a live trivia competition was about to begin. Participants would answer trivia questions in an attempt to win part of a jackpot that was often in the thousands of dollars — split among thousands of winners, however, meant that the prize per player was never life-changing. But its popularity endured — so much so that, when the app abruptly shuttered in 2020, there were a lot of questions as to why. In May 2020, The Ringer released an eight-episode podcast investigating the circumstances behind HQ Trivia’s demise called Boom/Bust: The Rise and Fall of HQ Trivia, reported and hosted by Bereznak.

    When the trailer for CNN’s documentary on the same subject dropped in early February, Bereznak took to Twitter to respond to people comparing the two projects to confirm that she wasn’t asked to be part of the project and call out some “shady” details.

    “1) Their angle is similar to mine 2) They interviewed a lot of the same sources from my pod ...and 3) Their name is nearly identical to the name of my podcast. Mine is Boom/Bust: The Rise and Fall of HQ Trivia. Theirs is Glitch: The Rise and Fall of HQ Trivia. I mean, come on,” she tweeted.

    The podcast-to-television pipeline isn’t anything new. But many documentary projects like HBO’s The Case Against Adnan Syed and Oxygen’s Up and Vanished and, even more common, fictionalized versions of true-crime podcasts like The Dropout, Dr. Death, and Dirty John, credit the original podcast and involve its creators in the production.

    This week, with the documentary’s release imminent, Bereznak once again commented on two potentially troubling ethical issues with the CNN documentary. “What does it even mean that two HQ employees were co-executive producers on the project and how does CNN plan to disclose this?” she wrote. “Were the HQ employees who appear in the doc paid to participate?”

    Bereznak’s concerns aren’t completely baseless. In the final episode of Boom/Bust, she reported on how HQ Trivia host Scott Rogowsky went to her boss at The Ringer asking for financial compensation for the interview he already did with the reporter and for editorial control over the story.

    Former HQ Trivia host Sarah Pribis is also questioning the documentary, confirming in a TikTok that CNN producers never reached out to her either.

    “I wonder whose narrative they’re telling and what pieces they’re choosing to leave out,” she wrote. “I guess I’ll just have to tell my story on TikTok.”

    Glitch: The Rise and Fall of HQ Trivia airs Sunday at 9:00 PM ET on CNN.

    Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R. 

    TOPICS: HQ Trivia, CNN, The Case Against Adnan Syed, Dirty John, Dr. Death, The Dropout, The Ringer