As has been reported recently, CNN laid off 50 staffers, primarily videographers and editors. Why? Essentially after a three year internal review, CNN has determined that professional editors are not necessary to craft news stories any longer. Instead they are expanding their iReport section allowing for more user generated content to be provided to the network, at absolutely zero cost to the network. Yep, zero cost to the network since these folks won’t be paid. I could go on about that part of the story, but Stephen Colbert explains it so well in this clip from “This Colbert Report” on Comedy Central.
So we’re at the point in the evolution of Editing (and videography for that matter) from craft to commodity. As CNN says in their release, high quality video cameras and editing software are available to the masses, so they don’t need the professionals any longer. In the corporate production world, this move from professional to consumer / family friends has been happening for quite some time. “My son / cousin / nephew / daughter / friend has a video camera / computer and he/she can do the work for us now. Sorry, but smaller budgets you know.”
Now we’ve seen the same thing happening in broadcast and higher end production as the editing tools became cheaper over the past 10 years. Only for a while there it was actual professionals who left their corporate / broadcast jobs to take advantage of the lower cost tools to strike out on their own. So top notch editors were able to deliver high quality, broadcast and film projects right out of their own homes using desktop tools. I’m proof positive of that starting out in a spare bedroom and then expanding my house where we ran my company for 7 years with three HD edit suites.
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. Kind of ironic to see this push to the lowest common denominator at the same time that so many editors are discovering the joys of high end color correction tools. But I digress.
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. Writing is a craft that some folks can do and others….. well they can write letters, recipes, but you wouldn’t ask them to write your next script or promo.
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. A buddy of mine described it that “the editing part is secondary for Walter, he just knows where the story is, but it’s everything else around editing like the technology that has always drawn him in.”
The technology, and the proper way to use today’s technology, seems to be the biggest differentiation between what we’ll call a hobbyist / prosumer vs. a professional editor. Even on national broadcasts I’m stunned at how many interlacing issues I see that aren’t rocket science to do correctly. In the case of our shop, there is not a format we have not had to work with so we’re getting pretty good at solving any problems that can arise from the mixing and matching of the various formats.
So in this short term environment where video editing is equated with the cheaper tool than the artist and anyone can edit at home for super cheap, why in the world would we open a huge new facility? Simple. We’re storytellers and I surround myself with other good storytellers. We are transitioning ourselves from just being a service provider to other clients, to creating our own original content. As we develop these into fully funded projects, we’re going to need room for more storytellers. And as some storytellers strike out on their own, they might need a place to call home for a while. So we want to provide that creative space for other artists because as cool as it is to work at home, I can attest that it’s more fun and creative to be around like minded folks than all alone in your home office.
Long term, the craft of editing is probably stronger than ever. Now that the tools are in the hands of the many, we’ll discover some new folks who just blow us away with their storytelling skills. But short term, many long time professionals could get hurt when editing decisions are based on price alone and not the skill of the artist. Like anything else, with storytelling you generally get what you pay for.
In time, folks will realize that again.