Outsourcing Local News: The Joke is On Us

"A lot of the routine stuff we
do can be done by really talented people in another time zone at much lower
wages."
– James Macpherson, editor and publisher, Pasadenanow.com

So it goes in American journalism today that we no longer need people in America to cover local news. At least that’s the case in Pasadena,
Calif., where an online newspaper has hired
“reporters” in India
to cover city government and politics.

James Macpherson, editor and publisher of pasadenanow.com, said in recent newspaper
interviews that yes, while it sounds odd, reporting on Pasadena City Council
meetings can be done from anywhere, as the sessions are broadcast live online. And
access to cheap Indian labor and high-speed digital connections makes it all
the more economical.

"I think it could be a significant way to increase the quality of
journalism on the local level without the expense that is a major problem for
local publications," Macpherson said. "Whether you’re at a desk in Pasadena or a desk in
Mumbai, you’re still just a phone call or e-mail away from the interview."

At this point I was going to write a funny fake conversation between a
Pasadena council member and a reporter from India – a lighthearted blog post, a
quick laugh in the sometimes all too serious blogosphere.

But after you get past the reality that this story is not the basis of a Saturday Night Live sketch, the idea of
outsourced local journalism has some merit. Maybe Macpherson has discovered the
cure for what ails cash-hungry newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, which
doesn’t cover local news half as much as it used to when it had more shoes on L.A. streets.

Now the Times can cover City Hall with its bureaus in Mumbai and Beijing. Just go online,
send some e-mails, use Instant Messenger and make some cheap Internet phone
calls via Skype and voila, the L.A. Times is a local newspaper once again.

Let’s face it: Real reporting is a hard, thankless, drab
existence. It requires “people” skills, the ability to discern nuance and
distill facts from those for whom truth is often a matter of opinion. It takes intuition and
intellect. And most of all, it demands a connection to community and love for
storytelling that takes a whole lot of time and emotional energy.

Thankfully, there are journalists like Macpherson brave enough
to say “the hell with it.” People don’t care about what’s really going on in
their communities, right? They just want to know enough to appear smart.

And isn’t news just a product now anyway? So if someone can
make a product cheaper overseas why not outsource its production?

The world is flat. “Community” is a market target. Global is the new local.

And if you believe all I’ve said here to be true, if you’ve read this
far and still aren’t soaking wet from the dripping sarcasm, if you honestly think
that local news does not need to be reported by local people no matter medium or method is used, the I have some
new for you.

American journalism is dead.

No joke.

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2 Responses to Outsourcing Local News: The Joke is On Us

  1. I don’t know if you’re writing this tongue-n-cheek, or if you really believe outsourcing local reporting is a good thing.
    It’s bad. Bad. Bad! It’s bad for newspaper. It’s bad for communities, it’s even bad for journalism students just starting out.
    Please tell me you really don’t support outsourcing local reporting.

  2. Rodger, re-read the last couple grafs and you’ll have your answer. Guess my sarcasm wasn’t thick enough 🙂

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