Local news reporting outsourced to India

Believe it or not, the above is an actual LA Times headline. The newspaper (actually website) is Pasadena Now, and the reporters are in Mumbai and Bangalore. Of all things, they’re going to cover city council meetings:

The council broadcasts its meetings on the Web. From nearly 9,000 miles away, the outsourced journalists plan to watch, then write their stories while their boss sleeps — India is 12.5 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time.

As a recovering journalist, I reacted with horrified amusement, since one of my former jobs was feeding a beastly golf website with content that included scores and a recap story from a writer following the Australian tour. At first I was getting up at 1:30 am to do it, until we figured out that the Aussie could e-mail our guy in London, and then I would check the work around 6 am.

Despite all our technical challenges, our Aussie writer was quite good, and editing his pieces was fun–I learned a lot about golf Down Under, and got a primer in Aussie idioms.

Now, consider how we could have outsource it. We put an ad on Craigslist (the way Pasadena Now did), looking for some schmuck in south Asia to watch the golf coverage and write it up. Maybe, if we’re clever, we have a stock set of questions he has to answer in his write-up, like the weather and the wind and the conditions of the course. It would be a bit like an American Idol blog, where people talk about what they’ve seen on TV along with 40,000,000 other people. In other words, it’s words about television, not journalism.

What they’ll be missing is that intangible benefit of being able to have a reporter ask a question of a city council member. You know, an interview? Call me naive, but I always found those really useful when trying to write a story. But then, maybe the coverage of the Pasadena City Council is only worth the $19,200 a year the site plans to pay the “reporters,” and interviewing is some sort of frivolous extra, along with local knowledge and good writing.

A bunch of years ago I wrote a piece for the San Jose Mercury News called “Reporters? Who Needs Reporters?” about a bit of sportswriting software someone in Nebraska had developed so that high schoolers could plug in scores and a quote, and bang, there was a story.

Little did I know the damn story was going to be prophetic. After all, I’m sure the next ad Pasadena Now is going to post will be pasadena craigslist > gigs > “Use your cellphone to photograph city council meetings and get paid — excellent part-time job for high school students!”

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