The editor of PasadenaNow, a local news and information website has decided to expand the site’s news coverage by hiring two reporters. Right now the site is basically populated with press releases and event listings, so this is good news, right?
But the thing is, PasadenaNow has a small budget, so the site can’t really afford to hire California-based full time journalists. So editor James Macpherson went out and hired two reporters in India to cover local City Council sessions (which can be viewed over the internet), and other area news.
It’ll cost Macpherson less than $21,000 per year to hire the Indian journalists, which is much less than what a single American reporter would charge, but a pretty decent salary for someone living in India. The story’s gained some attention from journalism bloggers, and rightly so. It raises some interesting questions:
- How can someone half a world away get the pulse of a community?
- Sure, they can observe City Council meetings and some news conferences, but they can’t ask follow-up questions.
- Sure, lots of local journalists spend more time doing phone interviews than talking to people in person, but there’s always the option of going out on the street to do interviews or visiting sites to get a sense of what’s going on.
In other words, there’s no chance that a reporter in India is going to be able to do as good a job on Pasadena stories as a local reporter when it comes to feature reports or investigative journalism. But for quick turnaround spot news stories? Maybe.
Because here’s the thing. In this particular instance, it’s not a choice between hiring local reporters or outsourcing the job. It’s a question of having journalists or press releases. The reporters Macphearson’s hired are both trained journalists who are just as capable as anyone else. They’re just at a disadvantage because of their location.
I’d hate to see large news organizations begin to lay reporters off and hire offshore workers. But if the practice gives sites like PasadenaNow a chance to have some quality journalism for the first time, it’s probably a good thing.
Lost Remote has an interesting look at the implications of offshoring. The basic argument is that within a few years, every news organization will start to develop partnerships with firms in India. And while the reporting will probably still be done mostly in-house, those news institutions will be able to outsource work that isn’t place-dependent, such as video editing, moderating and editing user submissions and user feedback, and repurposing news content for alternative distribution to the web, PDAs, cellphones etc.
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