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Next let's outsource the readers

Maureen Dowd of The New York Times has discovered, somewhat belatedly, the outsourcing of journalism to offshore (read: cheaper) operations.

In particular, she describes in a column one James McPherson’s coverage of events in Pasadena, Calif., from Mysore City, India. Mr. McPherson’s epiphany was that he could produce Pasadena Now and not only eliminate those tiresome and slow-moving editors with their quibbles about factual accuracy and clarity, but also the reporters and their princely wages of $600-$800 a week.

He’s as proud as if he had invented the sweatshop himself: “I pay per piece, just the way it was in the garment business. A thousand words pays $7.50.”

Ms. Dowd thought to call one of his employees in Mysore, where the “reporting” is done by video and e-mail. She wrote to “40-year-old G. Sreejayanthi, who puts together Pasadena events listings. She said she had a full-time job in India and didn’t think of herself as a journalist. ‘I try to do my best, which need not necessarily be correct always,’ she wrote back. ‘Regarding Rose Bowl, my first thought was it was related to some food event but then found that is related to Sports field.’ ”

It is a singular achievement for American newspaper journalism: to have transcended satire. Nothing in Evelyn Waugh’s classic Scoop can rival what American publishers and publishing executives are doing seriously.

It was once thought that some publishers displayed their contempt for the public by publishing trash — celebrity gossip, scandal, grotesquely slanted news stories to benefit a political party or cause — the kind of twaddle in the London tabloids that Waugh so adroitly mocked. Now, contempt manifests itself in an apparent lack of any concern for providing anything that anyone would want to read.

Given the current hectic pace at which newspapers are diminishing themselves, they will soon shed those annoying readers as thoroughly as Pasadena Now dropped those redundant reporters.

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 9:59 PM | | Comments (11)
        

Comments

A few years ago the company I worked for laid off the entire editing staff (all three of us), and the rumor was that our jobs were going to be outsourced to India.

Apparently the higher-ups scrapped that idea (probably because they realized they didn't want to send documents to executives at Microsoft and GE that were edited by people who spoke English as a second language), because I saw my job posted a few months later—part-time, with a lower wage and more responsibilities. As frustrating as that was, I'm still glad they didn't outsource the jobs to India.

When I look at changes in newspapers, I worry about the readers, too.

But I also wonder how we persuade people to read and think about local government when, in their numerous and varied views, there isn't anything in it for them. There have always been a lot of people in the United States who didn't care about what their government was doing, and I've always thought that was part of the reason the constitution originally restricted voting to property owners.

If people aren't able to read about government in the newspapers, then they can go to local and county meetings and find out what's happening. The question is, how do we convince people to be conscientious citizens?

In the meantime, how will we make good writing valuable enough to receive support? Interesting news stories take more time -- more time with sources, more time crunching databases, more time writing, more time fact-checking and more time with editing.

The guy who repaired my furnace a few years ago marveled at the number of books he saw in my livingroom. When I told him I worked for the newspaper, he told me he had started reading it online. I said something like, "well, if too many people are like you and want to read what I write for free, then after a while I won't have a job," he shrugged and told me that even though he liked the news, he just wasn't going to pay for the paper.

I, of course, had to pay for the furnace repairs. And that was during the time when my newspaper did not put all the paper's content online. He knew he wasn't getting all the news, but he didn't care.

Sometimes I think journalists are the Rodney Dangerfields of business. Many people who've graduated from high school think they can write as well as any professional writer or editor. It's so simple, they think, that anyone can do it, so journalism isn't worth much.

A number of years ago I was interviewing a business owner for a story. In the middle of the interview, he had to break off and take the cash register for a few minutes. The second customer he waited on had flipped open one of the newspapers in the pile on the counter and was reading the B section front.

"You getting the paper?" the business owner asked, as he rang up various items.

"Nah," said the customer. "I don't read it any more. Don't have the time."

"I know what you mean," said the business owner. "I stopped reading it a while back and now I don't even miss it."

Hey, I read this from out of state! It's like you're already outsourcing readers. Congratulations, you're ahead of the game. ;)

I saw this story a number of months ago and wonder if anyone in Pasadena has complained about the inaccuracy or general lack of local coverage. I also wonder what the future of hard-copy newspapers is in a world where everyone is connected at all times. I value the time I spend reading two daily newspapers (one of them The Baltimore Sun). Indeed, my Darling Wife and I sometimes look crossly at one another when one of us grabs the section the other was about to read. But I am now retired and have the time to sit and read a newspaper. How many younger people have that time or desire when the pressures of work and family conspire to fill all available time?

During one of my periods of forced retirement from tech editing for the IT industry, I wrote for a monthly community newspaper. I was able to do this because my husband works and somehow we were able to get by on his “ok” salary and my meager one.

I really considered it an honor to be able to cover somewhat complicated local issues (land and water use, etc.) and try to demystify these issues for the local reader. For my labors, which involved extensive interviewing, attending committee meetings, driving many miles, conducting research, not to mention the writing itself, I got 10¢ a word (the same amount the local business weekly paid its stringers).

Eventually, of course, I had to get a “real” job. But from this experience, I realized that (1) most people work and so therefore can’t attend most of these public meetings, (2) even if they could, they would need to be briefed beforehand to understand what was going on, not to mention the hidden agendas of various stakeholders at the meeting, and (3) they’re too busy working, taking care of their family, and then plopping in front of the TV to watch sitcoms to even think about reading a newspaper.

To my mind, coverage of the local and hyperlocal by educated, experienced journalists is needed more than ever in these complicated times. As far as Barbara’s comment that people don’t read the local paper because “there isn't anything in it for them,” this is part of our role, too — to convince them that these things we write about are relevant to their lives. But I’m not sure how you do that… And I have a kid in college, so even though I miss my little paper terribly and would love to return to it, I (like tons of other writers) must make a living.

But I’ll continue trying to figure out a solution to this problem, so if anyone has one, let me know!

Newspapers that adjust will survive. Television was supposed to kill off radio and video players were supposed to kill off television and movie theaters.

Where I'm from topic drift is normal. Since this is not too far off topic I tentatively make mention of this point. Beginning in February, PC Magazine is going totally digital. No more hard copies in the mail or on magazine racks. The beginning of a trend or just geeky? Will newspapers follow suit?

Robert(tSO), this is a trend that is already well established. More and more journals are going totally digital, and libraries are canceling the remaining print editions right and left.

I sure hope the Atlantic and the Wilson Quarterly stay in print versions. Both magazines have web sites, which is good for reading articles in their archives.

I was a faithful reader of the Sun when I lived in Baltimore, and when I moved to Annapolis I read the Capitol there. The Capitol is (was?) one of the few papers remaining that was delivered in the evening.

So when I moved down here, I subscribed to the local paper. After the trial period ended, I cancelled. It just wasn't worth paying Sunpapers prices for a paper that maybe had 6-8 pages of content period. I could (if I really wanted to read about rodeo and high school sports) read the entire Sunday paper in about 30 minutes.

Mmm.

"I really considered it an honor to be able to cover somewhat complicated local issues (land and water use, etc.) and try to demystify these issues for the local reader."

Maureen Dowd couldn't WAIT to stop covering sewer and water and get a real job, she said in an interview. I took that as a slap at what I do. She probably makes in a few weeks what I make in a year and writes fewer inches.

"Eventually, of course, I had to get a “real” job. But from this experience, I realized that (1) most people work and so therefore can’t attend most of these public meetings, (2) even if they could, they would need to be briefed beforehand to understand what was going on, not to mention the hidden agendas of various stakeholders at the meeting, and (3) they’re too busy working, taking care of their family, and then plopping in front of the TV to watch sitcoms to even think about reading a newspaper."

Our weekly commissioners meeting maybe gets 6 people who aren't county employees. And 4 are regulars (lady from the League of Women Voters; "Bo," a local developer; "Bob", who is a gadfly; and Frankie, another gadfly), plus me and maybe one other person.

The meeting is from 8:30 am until it ends. Not a good time for public involvement. But when they meet in the evening, usually fewer people show up.

"To my mind, coverage of the local and hyperlocal by educated, experienced journalists is needed more than ever in these complicated times."

Perhaps. I work hard to get the issues and salient facts out, though there's an awful lot of happy-horsepucky and administrivia dragged out at these meetings.

Let me know if you figure anything out.

I wonder if people are aware that their medical reports are being done in India on the cheap. Medical transcriptionists have been forced out of work because large companies sold their programs provididng cheap reports to doctors and hospitals. US transcriptionists might get low paying work proof reading reports and correcting reports done in India or by a voice recognition. These large companies are not concerned with quality. If it is reported to a supervisor that a radiologist is switching back and forth between left and right in a report and the proofreader would like clarification so that a surgery isn't done on the wrong side, their attitude is...just let it go it's not our responsibilty to question. So one who cares just has to ignore stuff like Patient name: Chocolate Ovary, and move on knowing it must be wrong.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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