Tuesday, May 15, 2007

News site outsources local journalism

From CNN courtesy of Crooks and Liars:

Outsourcing first claimed manufacturing jobs, then hit services such as technical support, airline reservations and tax preparation. Now comes the next frontier: local journalism.

James Macpherson, editor and publisher of the two-year-old Web site pasadenanow.com, acknowledged it sounds strange to have journalists in India cover news in this wealthy city just outside Los Angeles.

But he said it can be done from afar now that weekly Pasadena City Council meetings can be watched over the Internet. And he said the idea makes business sense because of India's lower labor costs.

"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," said the 51-year-old Pasadena native. "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."

More here.

Okay, so this is really just a California entrepreneur and his wife trying to make some money out of their basement, but, conceptually, it pretty much captures the essence of how the corporate news media is so fucked up. From a business perspective, it makes perfect sense to try to cut costs by chasing lower wages in the third world. But when you go after the bottom line in this way, there are always hidden losses. In the same way that farming out pet food manufacturing to China has meant a drastic loss of health and safety oversight resulting in countless pet deaths and illness here in the US, farming out the city council beat to Indian reporters means reducing the job to stenography. That is, it's not really reporting anymore. Sure, it provides information, but that's all it is, and such information is already available on the internet, which is how these "reporters" are able to report it. Real reporters, ideally, look for real stories, and by being in personal contact with the officials they're covering, and by being in the actual city that they're covering, they're able to get leads, hunt down good dirt, and generally serve their communities in ways that journalists have traditionally done.

In short, treating news as though it were some interchangeable, standardized product means it's not really the news anymore. I mean, it looks like news, but it ultimately lacks the depth necessary for citizens to make important decisions about the course of their city, state, or country.

More on how business practices shape and skew the news here.