Offshoring the News: It's Inexpensive, but Is It Informed?

Ann All

Out with the non-core, in with the core. If there is a golden rule of outsourcing, this just may be it.


By clearing non-core activities off their plates, companies can devote more resources to the areas that are strategic to their business. Yet like most adages, this one isn't necessarily as clear-cut as it sounds.


As the global director for Sourcing Service for consulting firm Compass told me in a recent IT Business Edge interview, "The ideas about what's core and what's non-core keep changing."


Call centers, for example, often prove to be more strategic than they seem at first blush. "The client organization must be careful to understand the linkages between whatever they are outsourcing and the rest of their business," she advised.


What to make, then, of pasadenanow.com's decision to seek a reporter in India to cover city government in Pasadena, Calif.?


The publisher of the two-year-old Web site says in a recent Associated Press story that the reporter can watch City Council meetings on the Internet and call or e-mail sources for interviews. "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," he says.


If reporting local news isn't core to this Web site's business model, I don't know what is. As someone who covered local government in the early days of her career, I know that many of the most newsworthy events aren't going to happen on a Webcam or over the phone.


A reporter in Mumbai would have missed the moment I witnessed in the hallway after a long-ago city council meeting when one of the council members abruptly slapped a fellow council member in the face. I think you can guess what led my coverage of the otherwise mundane meeting.


At my last post, I worked with a writer in India to get some on-site coverage of the business activities of a company that was a major newsmaker on my beat. He did get me a story I couldn't have obtained in the U.S. -- but unfortunately, some of it amounted to not much more than unsubstantiated rumor despite his assurances to the contrary. So I found myself on a conference call with the peeved executive who led the company's India team. I wrote off the misunderstanding to cultural differences (a problem that plagues many outsourcing efforts) -- and wrote off that writer.


Working with him and other writers for whom English is not the first language also generally required some pretty heavy-duty editing on my part. As an expert points out in the AP article, this could quickly cancel out any labor savings for pasadenanow.com. A desire for language fluency has led big companies such as Sun and HP to move some technical support positions from India to sites closer to home.


Faced with onslaughts on their ad revenue from Google and craigslist, media outlets are trying lots of unconventional strategies, including getting non-journalists to help provide photos and other coverage. And there's a prominent precedent for outsourcing in news service Reuters, which has a bureau in Bangalore. Workers there write basic financial services stories based on news releases, however, a type of reporting that doesn't suffer much from occurring largely over the phone.


The pasadenanow.com Web site may not be the last local news outlet to give outsourcing a try. (It's earned lots of attention for being the first, which could have been part of the publisher's motivation.)


But companies considering such a move should remember another important outsourcing rule -- don't sacrifice quality for low cost. Do you want your news coverage to be informed or inexpensive?

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