This weekend I had to opportunity to tour CNN’s World Headquarters in Atlanta. Not the $35 tour of the fake sets, views through glass windows and gift shop exit, but the one that takes you places only reporting students would enjoy (and not because it was free).
It was amazing.
For two-thirds of the tour I was completely star-struck by not just the on-camera news people, but the backstage producers, graphics people and photographers.
“These people are the coolest,” I kept saying in my head. That and, “Wow wearing heels was a bad choice.”
The building is massive. Seven floors of editing suites, newsrooms, offices, databases, green rooms and studios stacked on top of another. With all of this square footage I expected employees to be crowded into desks and squeezing into corners to do their ever-so-important news work.
Boy, was I wrong.
The floor I began my visit on was practically vacant. It was the investigative production department. Only about seven employees occupied the rows and rows and cubicles. My guide joked about the emptiness saying, “It’s exclusive here.”
And that’s probably true. I felt as though I was among the elite- the top 1% of the news biz.
Only later when I stood in a desert of deserted Dell desktops did he reveal that the reason employees were so scarce was because they were no longer necessary. They had been replaced with… yes, technology.
On the investigative floor renovations were completed a few years ago for an entire department dedicated to digging into social media accounts and data mining for stories. Now, he said, reporters did it themselves, on their smartphones.
The department lasted one week before they realized that they were redundant.
If I wasn’t already scared enough for a career in mass media, I certainly am now.
Jobs that once took an entire staff now take a 5 by 3 inch device.
I learned that most editing is done by a handful of people proficient in the software. Approximately 14 people work on each show. For the one show that is filmed in Atlanta, one man in the control room runs all of the cameras.
Personnel is being cut simply because staff is superfluous. Why have 35 people doing something a reporter with a phone can do?
I learned that I need to learn… a lot.
Not only should I prepare for a job researching, pitching, gathering, shooting, tracking, editing, reading and reporting stories, I should also learn to use databases, search the deep internet and code stuff (what does that mean). Because now a journalist’s job is not just in journalism, it’s in technology.
And while today you may be necessary, tomorrow is a whole different ballgame.