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December 6, 2011
IndustryVideo Editing

Video Editors Respond to CNN’s Layoff of 50 Editors and Videographers

Professional editors and videographers were laid off at CNN, in large part because of the rise of consumer-generated content.  Will other news outlets follow this lead?

Last month, CNN announced layoffs of about 50 of its editors and videographers, stating that, in large part, because cameras and editing equipment were so plentiful in the hands of the masses, they would begin relying more heavily on consumer generated content, rather than professional content. 

Professional editors have had a chance to respond to this news, and we’ve followed this conversation.

First, here’s a November 11 excerpt from the announcement by CNN Senior VP Jack Womack to CNN Staff, explaining the reasons for the layoffs:

“We looked at the impact of user-generated content and social media, CNN iReporters and of course our affiliate contributions in breaking news. Consumer and pro-sumer technologies are simpler and more accessible. Small cameras are now high broadcast quality. More of this technology is in the hands of more people.”

Womack stated that after completing a three-year analysis (which also included evaluating the daytime and evening line-ups, how stories are assigned, the ratio of stories that actually make it on air, as well as production demands, down time, and international deployments) CNN ultimately decided to make significant cuts its production and post-production team in its Atlanta, New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles and Miami offices.  (By the way, the layoffs followed CNN’s Employee Appreciation Week.)


Following the layoffs, CNN revamped its iReport site, which is now complete with an online assignment desk, so contributors can be assigned and post video content in an organized way (but with no pay).

The Response

Editors and videographers have had an opportunity to respond to this news, which, for the most part, seem to have been of varying levels of distress and disgust.  And fear.  Because, if CNN starts this trend of allowing consumer content to usurp professional content, then what’s to stop other news outlets from following?

Video editing Blogger Walter Biscardi explains the issue quite well.  Here’s an excerpt:

“I have to have to say, this is the first time I’ve seen a broadcaster literally coming out and saying we’re going to replace professionals with consumers and hobbyists. They save the salaries of 50 professionals and get all sorts of free content, no matter how it’s shot or edited with no regard for sound or video quality.

Basically editing is just a commodity right now in the minds of many. The craft is associated with cheap tools rather than the artist using the tool. There are millions upon millions of folks who use word processing software but that doesn’t make all of those millions writers…  It’s the same with video editing. Millions upon millions of people now have access to really good video editing tools, but that doesn’t make them an editor. Earning a paycheck doesn’t make you an editor either. I’ve met “professionals” who have full time jobs that can’t cut their way out of a paper bag. And then I meet kids in school or college that just blow me away with their sense of timing.

True editors are storytellers. Doesn’t matter if you’re cutting a commercial, a training video, a movie or an episodic television series, you’re telling a story. Really good editors seem to be natural storytellers with an incredible sense of timing. When I start a project, I can usually “see” the edit from start to finish within a matter of hours. It’s just second nature for me and it’s something I have a hard time explaining to other people when folks ask me for tips and how I go about editing.”

The folks over at the HD Warrior Blog don’t think people will respond well to the changes happening at CNN:

“…To go down the CNN road is to completely rip the heart out of a newsroom by using amateur footage full stop.  People are savvy creatures; they may not be television producers but they know when they are being short changed… and amateur footage shines through like a sore thumb.  This news is a sad day for world television news…”

Other media and entertainment outlets have their own views about CNN’s decision.  Check out Stephen Colbert’s take on it.

How do you feel?

What do you think about CNN’s move to lay off its professional editors and photojournalists in favor of relying on consumer-generated content?  How do you think media consumers will respond?  Do you think the pendulum will swing the other way when economic times are better?

Tell us in the Comments!

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  • Justin

    What these Ireporters don’t realize is they’re shooting themselves in the foot. I’m sure alot of them are students and media types that one day want to be a pro editor, videographer etc. They will have a tough time breaking into the biz when there are significantly less paying jobs. Also, whats stopping the ireporters from demanding pay! There should be an organized movement demanding some sort of payment for their work some of which is actually good. Emphasis on some.

    • Ashley Kennedy

      All excellent points, Justin. It does seem that any commercially viable institution should likewise hire commercially viable workers to produce its content.

  • http://YourSite(Optional) stevepro

    Now you know how computer programmers feel about Freeware and open source software. If CNN called it open source news gathering would it be OK then?

  • Anthony Burokas

    Another key factor is the impartialness of the iReporters themselves.

    Consider their proximity to the event. Citizens would be “at” an event because they’re already interested in it. They aren’t striving to objectively cover the event or to tell a story, they point a camera and get a shot. Would the shot be better if they moved to the left? Backed up 5 feet? or would the point be better made if they got a lot closer, provided detail? Do we have an establishing shot? Is there more than one person to focus on? can both be included in the shot? Do I have to move left or right to improve the coverage? Is the bright background forcing the camera iris to close down and obscure the subject of my shot? How do I reframe to get clean, good coverage of this moment? Do consumers have access to locations and buildings the same as press? What about events? If they are not press, there’s no press pass.

    When an “objective” news organization tries to rest its news coverage on the shoulders of untrained, & possibly biased consumers without the experience, dedication and access of true press professionals, the footage they acquire will be largely be the untrained, possibly biased, limited access footage that consumers can provide.

  • http://YourSite(Optional) gms

    Anthony Burokas says it best. I am really disappointed in CNN’s decision, and I don’t expect it will turn out in their favour in the end. This is highly short-sighted thinking.

  • Free Video Editor!

    Really disappointed with CNN’s decision here. :(

  • Zonmedia

    CNN is not different from any other companies in the world by ways of doing things to make more profits. But this is an opportunity for those affected to think about what they may do with their talent. There are demands for competent and professional editors all over the world by that i means getting out of their comfort zone to look else where to work. Or they may produce DVD video tutorials teaching people how to edits. They may say but there are many on the market, but they can do it in a way that even the less privileged kids can learn.

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