Blog: For now, editing is a commodity and less a craft
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 R...
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.
Well said, Walter.
I don't know that the news industry should be held up as the bellweather for the entire editing industry, however. 24-hour news networks have from their inception been all about the commoditization of their product and the technology delivering it.
From a lowly 400th-market local TV station in the middle of nowhere, USA, to CNN Atlanta, news directors and station managers have always tried to pay the lowest dollar for the most product, using the fewest staff they can get away with.
Frankly, I don't consider the 24-hour news networks to be much about "news" anymore anyhow: they "wheel" the same handful of stories for 24 to 48 hours, just tweaking and re-stating the same facts, then adding layers of reaction and interpretation to the reaction and reaction TO the reaction... with most of the news hole filled with advocates, pundits, and lobbyist/PR spinners, not reportage.
They happily prefer to use satellite remote feeds from studios instead of doing more field work. Anything to keep milking one story as an "asset", to avoid having to do the work to generate a new story from scratch. News, frankly, is broken.
The experiment with viewer-submitted content may or may not pan out. I have a feeling it will be a passing fad, myself, if only because those same people submitting the stuff for free can skip CNN and self-publish to You Tube and get money for generating hits, far more money than CNN will pay. Which I think is karmically appropriate for CNN.
[Mark Suszko] "I don't know that the news industry should be held up as the bellweather for the entire editing industry, however. 24-hour news networks have from their inception been all about the commoditization of their product and the technology delivering it.
CNN is the most visible example of what has been happening across the non linear editing spectrum. As the tools become cheaper, corporate entities have been shedding their production crews for the nephew / cousin / daughter who has a MacBook Pro with Final Cut Pro and a handicam. Ad agencies are pulling production work in-house rather than going to post production facilities. And you can find many more examples.
CNN is just a very large example of the general trend that has been doing on with essentially driving the market down to the lowest common denominator where the skill of the operator is less important than the cost of the tool. Eventually this trend will reverse when people realize they really DO need creative folks who can tell a story, meet the deadline and stay within budget. For CNN, this user generated content to television might work for a while, but this gives another network the opportunity to outshine the "TMZ" model and produce higher quality programming.
[Mark Suszko] " they "wheel" the same handful of stories for 24 to 48 hours, just tweaking and re-stating the same facts, "
I have NEVER understood this. You have 24 hours per day to fill and all they do is repeat the same thing every 5 minutes. And anymore the "news" is 20 second soundbite and then 10 minutes of "analysis" about what was said. And all the 24 hour news channels wonder why they're shedding viewers. With 24 hours devoted to NEWS there's no reason why CNN or anyone else can't do really high quality, in depth 5 to 10 minutes stories that go far beyond the headlines and then just leave it at that.
Aggravates the hell out of me to see where CNN has evolved to. I'm really glad I was able to experience that network from '90-'95 when it was really at its best. That was one amazing team we had back then and it was still owned by the greatest boss I've ever had. Ted Turner.
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I've gone back and forth over the years in my personal opinions of Ted. And he's not involved with CNN and HLN now as far as I know. But it is telling that he himself was quoted as hating what his creation has morphed into. Not unlike what I imagine old Sam "Made in America" Walton would say today if he could see what his kids did with Walmart.
Anyway, my hunch is this model is not sustainable long-term, and if we can hang around long enough, some of us will survive to come rescue what's left. How to make money in the meanwhile, THAT's the trick.
[walter biscardi] " With 24 hours devoted to NEWS there's no reason why CNN or anyone else can't do really high quality, in depth 5 to 10 minutes stories that go far beyond the headlines and then just leave it at that."
That's why I listen to NPR! Most of the journalists are very adept at using field sound to create the image in your head as you listen. Quite refreshing.
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Mick, that's a telling comment. On the road to and from gigs, I listen to NPR and also to WLS-AM, a 50KW clear-channel station (in the broadcast range sense, not the corporate sense) that reaches my whole state, so I can hear the afternoon drive team anywhere.
Where NPR is constantly refreshing their news feed with new stories, I know that on WLS, their "news" will be the same 90 seconds' worth of headlines of the same 4 stories, repeated every 15 minutes, from 1PM to 5:30, without any changes. They will refer to them as "here's stories we're looking at at this hour". Actually, they "looked at them" in the morning paper, and have been recycling them since about 11 AM, in a tone that suggests an update, but which is only a re-phrasing. Meanwhile, in order to have something fresh to talk to listeners about, the air personalities are tapping aggregators like FARK.com to pick up new stories and issues every 15 minutes.
Like I said before: "news" is broken. Particulalrly local news. In perfecting an efficient and economical system for gathering stories to air at six and ten, they've dropped the journalism and pursued efficieny of a cliche'-ridden form to fill time between commercials. Do you feel any better informed, for example, by a live shot stand-up of a guy in front of a building at 10PM, doing a 10-second live introduction to a piece he shot at noon and edited at one, and played at 4:30 and 6PM already? Now he's in front of a building that's been closed for five hours, to tell you nothing new has happened since the thing that happened at noon, but hey, he's LIVE on the scene!!!
And if there's any kind of bad weather, forget doing ANY hard news, because weather is dirt cheap to cover.
I would compare Video Editing with Read and Writing.
It's all in the story, thank Independent industry for that one.
It might help to look at newspapers and see a model that is NOT sustainable.
Trying to cut costs, they keep cutting reporters and beats and bureaus and columnists: the actual SOURCE of their PRODUCT, the stories we want to read... ...and then they wonder why circulation keeps dropping. It's because there's nothing left on the page but the ads and "advertorial". My local fishwrap boasts 20-odd pages daily, and the total "news" on them that's not just a repeat of AP wire copy barely fills two of those pages. The local entertainment/ community free weekly in my town regularly scoops the local daily paper and sometimes the local TV station, and it's circulation keeps going UP.
The local daily paper's online version isn't much better, but gets more active eyeballs because they allow every crackpot with an internet conenction to anonymously comment on the stories. They now charge you to do that, and I bet it nets as much revenue as the ads do.
What I see as the future of newspapers is they are going to be replaced by aggregators of individual self-syndicated reporters and columnists and bloggers. What you see at Huff Post and Slate today, only with some micropayment model that lets you get your content buffet-style, pay only for what you want, and the reporter gets paid directly by his or her readers, not the aggregator.
I think the other side of the story is what is acceptable to the viewer. I think viewers get excited when they see "home video" in a news story. Feels more real to them or whatever.
The term I keep hearing is "organic", we want our video to be "organic" which translates to shot on a phone cam. I am sure that term was thrown around at CNN when the decision was made.
The only hope is this will come full circle and people will get tired of seeing shaky video from a iPhone on the 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, etc. o'clock news.
This same problem has occurred before, with the printing press. Who needs a monk to handwrite a fancy drop cap, when you can just set the movable type? More writers can write more stuff.
Just to be pedantic, what we are seeing now is the greatest common factor (not the lowest common denominator).
Nicely put Walter!
I've had a number of conversations recently with some of the production professionals in Orlando and many of are experiencing what you're talking about. Price pressure and my cousin/son/neighbor's kid with a camcorder and computer is becoming an all too regular avenue for clients.
My only hope is that we'll have a repeat of the 80s. Back then, Aldus Page Maker made everyone think that they could be a print designer. After some time, people realized that good design required actual talent.
Also, I think that the "perfect storm" that many in our industry are facing is the collision of 2 very different problems:
1) The changing landscape of our industry (smaller, cheaper, faster) with clients often gravitating toward their nephew with a camcorder.
Like you, we've built quote a bit of infrastructure here with multiple edit suites and a 2000 sq ft studio http://www.GreenSlateStudios.com (so sorry for the shameless plug)!
I want to do things the right way. But like others have said on this post, the trick is how to make a living as a video professional until that realization takes hold and the economy recovers!
Production is fun - but lets not forget: Nobody ever died on the video table!
[Steve Martin] "My only hope is that we'll have a repeat of the 80s. Back then, Aldus Page Maker made everyone think that they could be a print designer. After some time, people realized that good design required actual talent. "
How long did the realization take? 5 years? 10 years?
Good point Richard! It did take some time...
Production is fun - but lets not forget: Nobody ever died on the video table!
Actually it was a real question. I graduated high school in 1989 and I remember taking graphic design, and our teacher saying that all of the stuff we were learning would be obsolete very soon because it was going to computers. Then in college I remember all the other English majors starting "zines" where they could publish their poetry rants and slams.
Thank you, Walter.
I hear the sigh in your words. I've been on the losing and winning ends of several professions as "The Democratization Of Technology" continues to worm its way through our lives.
I doubt it will end well for those who cling to their favorite type of technology. Yes, commoditization is an apt word. I think, in addition to thinking of yourself as a story teller rather than an editor (or whatever the situation) we need to accept it and look past it to our people skills. I'm not certain of this yet, but, until disabused by a more formidable reality, I do believe that how well we communicate with our clients, crew and others, will determine our standing and survivability.
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It's not just video-editing that is being turned into a commodity. Since the advent of the internet, technology has run our lives and not the other way around.
as always, I'm late to the party but I do have a contribution to make. As someone else pointed out, the so-called commoditization of Editing is actually a prevalant 20th & 21st century concept by intent and not at all by accident. Indeed in my other life as a technology consultant, I promote the use of technology to deliver the promise of the Mid 19th Century Futurists- More leisure time for all. In an ideal world, everyone gets to earn enough to be happy on 20 hrs a week of full on work.Eventually, to realize such a goal, the global population will simply have to go down. I've been an ireporter since 2007 and have gained valuable access and acceptance in reportage from that 'learning' experience. I would not do it full time and certainly not for free.
There's a BIG difference between 'string' photographers and seasoned pros. Between on the fly hack editing and the craft of editing. Indeed. The gap between Professional and Amateur is huge- particularity if you consider the attitude factor. There will always be a need for the craft, though the ubiquity of access to reasonably priced tools, simply means that the market value of the deliverable is now lower and diminishing.
That may be why I operate in two domains. My legacy of visual arts and .... the next big thing.