No, according to Kevin Keane, Contra Costa Times executive editor. He assures me in an email: “The Contra Costa Times has no plans to outsource reporting or editing positions to India, although we are exploring other options to reduce costs during the current economic recession.”
That’s good news. I’m a daily reader of both the Times’ print and online editions. I’m actually one of those old-fashioned types who enjoys my morning cup of coffee while turning the actual newsprint pages of both the Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. Yes, the Times often drives me crazy, especially because of all the cool stories I think it doesn’t cover in Walnut Creek. But it would be a tragedy for this newspaper to go out of business, or for its coverage to be provided by writers half a world away—both for the people I know who work at the Times and for the East Bay community. We need local news, both from the Times and from bloggers like claycord.com.
Of course, you might be asking why I bothered Keane with this question in the first place. As it happens, I came across some news statements made by Keane’s big boss about his company's outsourcing of jobs overseas. I’m referring to Dean Singleton, the head of MediaNews Group, which owns the Contra Costa Times and a string of other newspapers throughout the Bay Area and around the country.
The New York Times' Maureen Dowd revealed Singleton’s comments in a column about how news organizations are trying to cut costs by outsourcing. According to Dowd’s column, Singleton told a newspaper publishers association group that his company was looking into outsourcing almost every aspect of publishing, “including possibly having one news desk for all of his papers, ‘maybe even offshore.’”
As Dowd wrote:
Noting that most preproduction work for MediaNews’s papers in California is already outsourced to India, cutting costs by 65 percent, Singleton advised, "If you need to offshore it, offshore it," and said after the speech, "In today’s world, whether your desk is down the hall or around the world, from a computer standpoint, it doesn’t matter.”
In his email to me, Keane acknowledged that some offshoring is going on: "One of the options [to cut expenses] was to offshore ad services—the building of the ads once an order is placed locally. And that has cut down on expenses considerably."
Dowd’s column actually focused on a man named James Macpherson, the publisher of a community news website called Pasadena Now. Dowd says Macpherson pioneered “glocal news,” outsourcing the coverage of Pasadena to India.
Dowd continues: For his daily online site, Indians are writing about everything from the Pasadena Christmas tree-lighting ceremony to kitchen remodeling to city debates about eliminating plastic shopping bags.
Macpherson fired his seven Pasadena staffers—including five reporters—who were making $600 to $800 a week, and now he and his wife direct six employees all over India on how to write news and features, using telephones, e-mail, press releases, Web harvesting and live video streaming from a cellphone at City Hall.
At first the reaction to covering Pasadena from 8,000 miles away and 13.5 hours ahead was absolutely brutal,” he recalled. He feels "vindicated," but also “conflicted” about the idea of having an American newspaper industry fueled by Indian labor. Journalism professors keened and Larry Wilson, the public editor at The Pasadena Star-News, called it “nutty.”
But Macpherson seems to have received vindication from Singleton, who is also chairman of the Associated Press.
Dowd's column is interesting, although I quibble with her assertion that Macpherson is pioneering this concept of “glocal” news. As it happens, I worked for a true pioneer in "glocal" news back in 2002 and 2003. That is, I worked for a community news website.
We had a staff of reporters, just like any traditional small-town newspaper. It was a great ride while it lasted, and we had a loyal readership and were breaking stories. Then, in a cost-cutting move, the publisher, a local entrepreneur (whom I might call a master of the cheap and expedient), began paying Indians across the world to produce copy for what he envisioned would be a chain of similar community news websites. He eventually laid off most of his staff, including yours truly. Who knows whether his business model ever worked. When I just attempted to click onto this site that I once worked for, I could not access it.
Let’s hope Keane can stay true to his word. I don’t know. With the Newspaper Association of America reporting that newspaper revenue fell nearly $2 billion in the third quarter of this year—a record 18 percent decline—we have to worry how long some newspapers can hold on. There are dire predictions that some cities or regions could lose their local newspapers altogether by 2010. Let’s hope that’s not the case with Contra Costa County or the Contra Costa Times.