The Amateurization of Communication

I read a newspaper headline this week that got me thinking.

“Latest software packages make anyone a director” were the words that stared out at me. The article went on to describe how most smart phones now shoot video and, with a basic video editing program, anyone can become a director. Really, I thought, really? Are the Academy Awards going to be flooded with new camera phone entries? Is Mary in IT going to join the ranks of Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron and Steven Spielberg?

I have spent hundreds of hours in edit suites cutting news stories, documentaries and network programs. I have worked with enormously talented film and video editors who spent years developing their skills and talent. I find it outrageous to suggest that any monkey with an IPhone and cheap editing software can replicate their story-telling skills.

But then I realized that we have already started down a slippery slope that could well be called the amateurization of communications. Graphic artists may have been the first to feel it. Computer clip art and fancy fonts became ubiquitous, replacing well-designed and aesthetically pleasing documents. Artistic talent was replaced with templates and mouse clicks.

Writers have long been pushed aside by people who got a B in high school English and fancy they have a touch of Hemmingway. And editing style guides have been supplanted by squiggly lines which indicate that Microsoft is unhappy with our spelling or our sentence structure. The beauty of a well-crafted paragraph is often lost after each member of a corporate committee adds an edit or two.

Still cameras these days can pick out faces to ensure they are in focus and even compensate for the common mistake of back-lighting. We can all get an image that shows us what was “there” but only a photographer can capture the story in a frame in a way that makes us want to smile or cry.

When movie cameras were big and expensive, photographs were developed in darkrooms and graphics were created by hand we sought out professionals to do those tasks. Those professionals had training and experience. Technology has made everything cheap and accessible but that doesn’t mean we have the talent or the skills to use technology well.

Using technology without a corresponding skillset results in a “race to the bottom” that can make communications materials look mundane or even cheesy. Amateurization reflects badly on a corporate image and makes it harder for companies and organizations to get noticed.

But professionally crafted corporate materials can create a connection that we don’t soon forget . . . just like a well-directed movie.

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