“CNN layoffs loom” is the constant sentence one hears here in the Atlanta Metro Area. And why not? Atlanta’s CNN’s headquarters, so when anything like a memo that announces a large series of personnel cuts at the Cable News Network gets leaked, it’s generally to the Atlanta media.
It’s painfully sad that a number of my friends and acquaintances at CNN have to literally stuffer from this downsizing, but given the way CNN management has overlooked its in house assets over the years, the news is far from surprising. You see, CNN’s problem isn’t that it couldn’t copy Fox News or MSNBC (it did try, failed, and hence the problem), it’s that the company didn’t see the handwriting on the wall that was written by its own CNN iReport staff.
CNN iReport Through My Eyes, Through The Years
The iReport was something I was a part of, having joined it in late 2006. What it was, and is, is a way for a person who makes video using a camcorder (and now a smartphone app) to upload it online. In short, The iReport was, then, a lot like Blip.tv, Vimeo, Yahoo Video, YouTube, and many other of the first-wave of video sharing sites. But the idea of the iReport was embed in its name: you were using it to report on the news as you saw it. I was encouraged to get involved by NewBieVids, who’s real name has escaped me, as we never met in person. But she sent an email over asking me to upload a video and join an iReport she was working on.
I never did that.
At the time, I was focused on discovering Blip.tv, which was the video-upload quality gold-standard at the time. YouTube was the place you went to for video conversation, if you could actually manage to upload a video that wasn’t blurry because of the terrible Flash-based rendering system at the time. Blip.tv was better.
Plus, I’d had the pleasure of meeting Blip.tv’s founders at the first west coast vlogger convention called “Vloggercon” and presented by Irina Slutsky of Geek Entertainment TV and Schlomo Rabinowitz, vlogger and educator (I have to say that neither has received credit for their contributions to the growth of vlogging.)
Then YouTube copied the H264 codec that Blip.tv was using, and that combined with its superior website design for the purpose of causing videos to go, what we now call “viral”, changed the game. YouTube rapidly overtook Blip.tv.
So, I started using YouTube, established Oakland’s first blog, then a small network of blogs with “Zennie’s Zeitgiest” at its center. I was a participant in The CNN / YouTube Democratic Debates in two ways: first by making this sample video for others to use as a guide of sorts, and then this question of mine was asked by Anderson Cooper, and to then-Senator and now Vice President Joe Biden:
That ignited a period of mini-celebrity for me, but it got maxed after CNN started putting me on their talk shows. Then, I got a call, out of the blue, from Jessica Ellis, of CNN special projects. To make a long, self-indulgent story, short, she asked if I was going to the Democratic Convention, and if I was on the iReport.
That was 2008, and CNN had just bought the iReport that year, in January, I believe. At any rate, I found my old account, and ‘dusted it off’ so to speak.
CNN was, at that time, blessed with a large iReport staff and really got into the whole deal behind citizen journalism. But the problem was CNN used the iReport to augment its basic news programming; it never once saw the iReport as something that could be programming itself.
In other words, CNN could then, and can today, set up a show that consists of the iReports on various topics of the day, for that day. I don’t know why CNN never even experimented with that, but I can guess that some of the older hands were a bit upset over phone calls from iReporters wondering if their video was going to be shown on a particular program. I was one of those people.
See, I didn’t get that a program editor may not want my video that I sent because a producer contacted me about it. I didn’t know that. What CNN never figured out a way to deal with were the many new egoes that had to be fed – the byproduct of the gift of a taste of fame. CNN never ran disclaimers regarding how they may or may not use iReport content, they just did things, and all of that was out of the hands of iReport staff.
Who, as you can see, are really cool people:
So, the iReport was used here and there by CNN and HLN, but never, once, the focus on of a prime time slot of its own.
It’s time for CNN and for Jeff Zucker, to consider such a move, and have the iReport staff increased and beefed up, and still based in Atlanta. What CNN can do is create a way to manage its iReporters, and even have a partnership program for frequent, designated, news-making iReporters. It’s only right, fair, and profitable (if you think about it) to pay them for what is content development. If CNN lays out a payment plan and explains that while they’re not going to get rich, there’s opportunity for healthy video compensation under certain circumstances, the iReporters will go along with the rules – they just have to be presented and repeated.
The iReport can be the cornerstone of the rebirth of CNN into something that’s not been done on television before. CNN’s backed into a corner. Maybe this time, as I’ve said this before, they’ll actually do it.