In another sign that Tom Friedman was right when he claimed that the world is flat, the Los Angeles Times reported last week that PasadenaNow, a lifestyle magazine covering the city of Pasadena, has hired two reporters in India to cover the Pasadena City Council meetings for the publication. Per the article, these outsourced reporting jobs will be held by two people living nearly 9,000 miles away from the news source they are covering: "One lives in Mumbai and will be paid $12,000 a year. The other will work in Bangalore for $7,200." The article also indicates that one of the two journalists had attended the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
In an Associated Press article, the online magazine's publisher, James Macpherson, explains the move, saying "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." And perhaps Macpherson has a point. It is safe to assume that there are not many small publications with UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism graduates on their staff. The AP also reported that the 51 year old Pasadena native posted job ads on the Indian version of Craigslist with position summaries that explained, "We seek a newspaper journalist based in India to report on the city government and political scene of Pasadena, California, USA."
This idea is not only bizarre, it breaks the rules of the common cultural supposition that some industries were insulated from outsourcing. Journalism was generally assumed to be one of, if not the most prime example of such a field. Robert Niles, a commentator at USC's Annenberg Center of Communication's Online Journalism Review, expresses the concern arising over the issue, as "it plays to journalists' fear that the global outsourcing epidemic that many of us have been covering for more than a decade now threatens our jobs." Niles goes on to complain that he believes "the attitude behind the outsourcing reflects so much of what is wrong with the practice of journalism today." Rob Gunnison, director of affairs at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism agrees, telling the LA Times, "it just seems so fundamental to journalism to be there."
A sensible point, especially when we assume all the basics about news reporting. It seems obvious that in order to conduct proper newsgathering and in order to provide thorough reporting on relevant issues, journalists need to be close to the source, frequently visiting the events and people making news. And it seems clear that they should be enmeshed and existentially engaged with the cultural logic of the news making environment in order to make meaningful choices about what information should and should not be reported, who should and should not be interviewed, and to provide a proper perspective and create a meaningful context for the information being examined. All of this is very difficult to achieve from 9,000 miles away. While it does certainly remove news reporting out of the cultural bias that is sometimes reflected by localized journalism, this is not what advocates for journalistic objectivity had in mind.
Although this move ultimately devalues the quality of journalism overall, because there is no substitute for being on scene, it seems unavoidable and makes too much business sense to be deterred as a practice. Given a choice between a professionally trained and experienced journalist and a C grade lackey from slacker University, USA, it is safe to say that most people will prefer to get their news from the former. Based on a brief look at the kind of journalism that is proliferating, maybe a bit of international competition will do journalism some good. Perhaps journalists have gotten a bit too comfortable with their sense of entitlement to their work.
Indeed, most of the anxiety about this issue is spurred by the fact that journalists had long considered themselves immune to the problem of outsourcing. One can only imagine the smug look on the faces of millions of Americans who have lost manufacturing and computer jobs to outsourcing as journalists get a taste of the spine tingling, hair raising realities of globalization. Welcome to the party.