Thursday, June 4, 2009

Experiment in Globalization and Outsourcing of Journalism

Journalists can be vocal about issues; more so when it comes to something as touchy as global sourcing of their vocation.

About a year ago, an online publication in Silicon Valley, PasadenaNow.com generated a lot of online buzz for firing its local journalists and going halfway across the globe to look for journalists who could write articles on local city issues by watching streaming videos from Pasedena’s town hall, sitting in Bangalore. By outsourcing its basic journalism – writing articles on local issues – the online newspaper hoped to cut costs and continue to operate on a shoestring budget while proving a point: in a global economy, local issues can easily be analyzed by individuals halfway across the world, thanks in part to ubiquity modern technologies and tools including high-speed internet, video streaming etc

A recent experiment in outsourcing the writing of select articles by New Haven Advocate along the same lines "Outsource This!" is generating similar buzz among journalists, bloggers and digirati. In a recent editorial, the staff explained "We wondered too about the limits of outsourcing local news, particularly alternative journalism. Covering city council meetings via webcam is one thing. Producing entire issues of a local news and arts weekly is quite another. What started as a joke — "I've got an idea. Let's outsource an entire issue to India just to see if it can be done" — has culminated in what you see here."

Lots of people have their opinions on the topic , including one of the writers-for-hire, Vijayalaxmi Hegde who blogs about her experience from the other side of the experiment "No, I wasn’t told of the concept. Not telling me was harmless, I’d say. But, I’ll repeat, in not acknowledging the quality work some of us did and in implying that it couldn’t match up to theirs, they’ve been unfair. They say, “We hope this issue will provide insight as well as a strong note of caution.” Caution against what? Losing local flavor, or not matching up to American journalism standards? They’re not clear on that."

Peter Applebome, in New York Times article writes about the experiment "But maybe it showed something else: that breaking the mold did work, that you could reinvent the wheel and come up with something pretty fresh."

Steve Hamm blogs "The New Haven Advocate community newspaper tried the experiment of outsourcing an entire issue worth of stories to India, with telling results. I hope the editors at BusinessWeek are reading this!"

Bottom-line: The basic question that seems to be rattling writers: should their bread-and-butter –local reporting - be globalized?

The vocation of journalism has been global for a long long time. Mainstream publications have had ‘foreign news bureaus’ and reporters stationed across the globe or traveling to hot-sports when need arises.

The issue here seems to be a bit more than whether the likes of Vijayalaxmi can write movie reviews or interviews with local businesses by researching and interviewing them remotely; the challenge for local journalists is how do they protect their local turf from globalizing?!