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My Cousin In Mumbai Could Have Written That

It's every reporter's secret nightmare: a rival in Asia, connected to the West by mobile phone and by modem, who can do your job just as well as you can for a fraction of the salary. The Web site Pasadenanow.com this week started outsourcing reporting on City Council meetings and other local affairs to two Indian journalists, one in Mumbai and one in Bangalore. Combined salaries: $19,200, not enough to even pay
It's every reporter's secret nightmare: a rival in Asia, connected to the West by mobile phone and by modem, who can do your job just as well as you can for a fraction of the salary. The Web site Pasadenanow.com this week started outsourcing reporting on City Council meetings and other local affairs to two Indian journalists, one in Mumbai and one in Bangalore. Combined salaries: $19,200, not enough to even pay for a studio apartment for a year in Pasadena, much less actually live and work there.Hatched by Web site publisher James MacPherson, who has the temerity to call local reporting "the routine stuff" that can be done from 9,000 miles away, this scheme has already attracted a legion of scoffers, most of them U.S.-based journalists, naturally. Speaking to The Associated Press, USC journalism professor Bryce Nelson called it "a truly sad picture of what American journalism could become."

"I still can't quite believe it's not a hoax," Rob Gunnison, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism's director of school affairs, told the Los Angeles Times. (Did I mention that one of the Indian presshounds is a graduate of the Berkeley j-school? How's that for globalization?)

About here is where you'd expect to get the fulmination about how only someone prowling Pasadena's mean streets could really report on the city's pulsing heart, blah blah blah. And having explored Pasadenanow.com for a bit I can tell you that, even at the overseas reporters' measly salaries, it seems like they're overpaid. The site consists almost entirely of rewritten press releases -- most of them, oddly enough, slapped with a copyright notice.

But all of us lazy hacks in the Land of Opportunity should be on notice: It's not just hungry South Asians who can do our jobs, it's machines. Reuters, which pioneered outsourced reporting with its Bangalore-based Wall Street bureau, has developed a "machine-readable" news feed that allows sophisticated computerized trading programs at financial trading firms to interpret and act on news of world events, natural disasters, and the like. It's not far from there to cutting out the human middlemen -- reporters, analysts, pundits, and magazine writers like me -- altogether. Anyone who's ever penned an account of a local water board meeting using the AP's "pyramid" story format knows that a slick summarizing application could do just as well.

So, if you're a local journalist anxious about your job being offshored, you can forget about the South Asians. It's the software you ought to worry about.

Editor's Choice
Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer