You know what I’ve been thinking about lately? IReporters.
In these tough economic times everyone is being forced to do more with less and if you’re a business, that means less employees. Companies are slashing payrolls in an attempt to save face, save money and avoid bankruptcy. Sure, the really large corporations are more than happy to keep their CEO bonuses, golden parachutes and lavish company retreats, but working men and women are easily expendable. In fact, I believe “Working Men and Women are Easily Expendable” is the name of the first chapter in, Large Faceless Global Corporations for Dummies.
Nowhere is this unfortunate trend more evident than in the twenty-four hour cable news business where industry leader CNN has spent the bulk of the last year replacing their old fashioned, highly educated, fact-finding reporters with cheap labor in the form of IReporters.
If you don’t watch CNN regularly – perhaps because you have a healthy fear of Lou Dobbs – let me initiate you to the world of IReporting. Mr. (or Mrs.) Average Citizen shoots video of whatever he (or she) sees in front of him (or her) then uploads it to CNN’s website and Ta-da! it’s news.
Sometimes it is an actual newsworthy event like footage of a large wave of flame swallowing homes in the California hillside. Other times it’s a disgruntled citizen vocalizing their discontent with government. And other times it’s a three-legged cat on a skateboard.
The majority of IReports are (thankfully) only available on CNN’s website, but several times a day the network airs some of the more entertaining videos it’s received as part of its regular programming. For these inspired nuggets of farce and conjecture the IReporter doesn’t get reimbursed with good ol’ fashioned dollars, but rather with fifteen minutes of fame and a free lock of Wolf Blitzer’s beard. (Okay, I’m not actually sure about Blitzer’s beard.)
The problem with IReporting is that it’s part of a bigger, nastier trend in cable news; the cutting of budgets wherever possible in order to reap a higher profit for the networks’ corporate overlords. Who needs timely and pertinent information delivered to the masses when we can just watch Joe Six-Pack bitterly complain about the bank bailout on his webcam?
More than ever before TV news is simply about the bottom line. And as we Americans know, the best way to make a tidy profit is on the backs of cheap labor. Or in the case of IReporters, free labor. No need to pay a camera crew to cover that natural disaster when there are more than enough people with camera phones willing to submit footage of the tragedy for free.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by CNNs ingenious cost-cutting endeavor. Cable news has been headed down this dark road for a long time. A day spent viewing these news channels reveals a startling shortage of actual “news.” They do, however, provide pretty people in studios talking about stuff that passes for news (i.e. the latest missing blonde co-ed), cheaply produced documentaries (i.e. reality TV), and an overabundance of talking head programming. Nothing says “too frugal to do any reporting” quite like charismatic hosts refereeing screaming matches between partisan political operatives.
The good news is that even though twenty-four hour cable news is becoming increasingly user-generated and has failed to provide the American public with well researched, in-depth reporting (or anything closely resembling it), we’ll always have our newspapers. They’ll live on forever and provide us with information that’s vital to the survival of our democracy and our way of life.
Right, Tribune Company?