Digital Disruptor

When the crowd disrupts the newsroom

Matt Berger Nov 18, 2011

I read the headline in passing on my Twitter feed last week: “CNN Lays Off 50, Citing ‘Workflow Changes,’ User-Generated Content.” More evidence of digital disruption in the news business.

The tweet came from a notable digital disruptor I follow named Rob Curley, who runs the digital news operations at the Las Vegas Sun, which has emerged recently as a real innovator in the newspaper business with its creative use of technology and social media. Rob did similar good work a decade ago before it was routine when he was the digital media director for the small Kansas publisher of the Lawrence JournalWorld. With its hyperlocal focus, that paper was an early pioneer in the concept of the “digital first” newsroom, and its reporters were posting stories with laptops and digital cameras to the website then coming back to edit them for the evening press run.

Ten years later, this is what it has come to; CNN is laying off professionally trained photojournalists and editors after discovering that it can do the same work well enough with community contributed content and new technology.

Here’s how the company’s senior vice president Jack Womack laid it out in a memo to employees, published by

Technology investments in our newsrooms now allow more desk-top editing and publishing for broadcast and online. This evolution allows more people in more places to edit and publish than ever before. As a result of these technology and workflow changes, CNN is reducing the number of media editors in our work force in Atlanta.

It gets even worse for the photojournalists in the crowd:

We looked at the impact of user-generated content and social media, CNN iReporters and of course our affiliate contributions in breaking news. Consumer and pro-sumer technologies are simpler and more accessible. Small cameras are now high broadcast quality. More of this technology is in the hands of more people. After completing this analysis, CNN determined that some photojournalists will be departing the company.

Later in the week, another Tweet came through my feed, this time from Poynter. It had reported that CNN redesigned its citizen journalism news site iReport to look more like a social network. Read “look more like Facebook.” Now that’s what CNN should really be thinking about.

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