By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Not-so-local news

Now this is a truly wretched idea.

The Associated Press reports that the Web site Pasadena Now has decided to outsource coverage of the local city council to reporters in India. In a follow-up, the Los Angeles Times says that one of these distant journalists, based in Mumbai, will make $12,000 a year, while the other, in Bangalore, will make $7,200. They’ll watch webcasts of the council meetings, consult relevant documents online and send their stories by e-mail. Who cares if they wouldn’t know Pasadena from Rawalpindi?

Pasadena Now editor and publisher James Macpherson tells the Times: “A lot of the routine stuff we do can be done by really talented people in another time zone at much lower wages.”

Reacting to Macpherson’s quote, Kevin Roderick of LA Observed digs up a terrific rejoinder from an anonymous Pasadena blogger:

That’s true, to a certain degree. The type of journalistic coverage McPherson [sic] is talking about really could be done by someone in another country, largely because their “coverage” often consists of little more than glorified press releases and parroting of the local media.

This is really quite a bit worse than the Boston Globe’s decision to outsource some circulation and advertising functions to India. Indeed, they’re even scratching their heads at the Hindustan Times, observing that “it remains to be seen how reporters would file their dispatches on local news — with all its flavour — from such a distant geographical location.”

No telltale byline, but here’s a possible example.

Dan Gillmor: “For the money he’s paying, he [Macpherson] could hire local bloggers. They’d do it better, with more perspectives — and have the advantage of, uh, being there.”

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  1. Dona Tracy

    Dear Dan,A link to this piece was provided on the on-line newspaper by owner Walter Brooks of His positive lead “Media writer Dan Kennedy continues to astound with his insightful reporting of our inky trades’ descent down the slippery slope to the trash bin of history. Dan’s column below is another whopper, this time about an on line medium;” belies the slippery slope of his own on-line newspaper which routinely censors the opinions and comments of his bloggers and the reading public and only publishes positive news stories on the Cape Wind project, his biggest paid advertiser.Please see this post “Cape Cod Today censorship and deletions” posted to an example of the slippery slope some on line newspapers are on.What has happened to the news industry? Where are the ethics in journalism? How can the public possibly become informed enough to make decisions on important issues when the debate has been silenced by the newspapers?A simple look at this site is a telling example of what can only be called news bought and paid for by advertisers.Would you be willing to look into this? I was told by the owner of CapeCodToday that it is his private newspaper and he can do anything he likes. Is that true? Aren’t most all newspapers privately owned. And given that, can they do anything they like with the news including framing it in favor of an advertiser?Dona Tracy

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Dona: Without necessarily endorsing your view of how Walter runs his Web site, I can tell you for sure that yes, he is free to run it any way he likes. The great thing about the Internet is that if you think you could do a better job, you can start your own site. It’s a lot easier than starting a newspaper!

  3. Dona Tracy

    Can I call it a newspaper and only give lip service to freedom of speech in a statement on my on-line newspaper, Dan? Is a news site not to be held accountable in terms of journalistic ethics. Or is that simply a myth?

  4. man who's a radio fan

    Oh.My.God.If ever there was a reason why I’m glad I don’t work for a newspaper, this would be it.Thank you for making my Monday even more depressing than usual, Dan. :-(j/k

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Dona: A news site is accountable to its readers. If they don’t like it, they’ll stop reading. You ask: “Can I call it a newspaper and only give lip service to freedom of speech in a statement on my on-line newspaper, Dan?” The answer is “yes.” Freedom of speech means the government can’t tell you what you can and cannot publish or say. Period. Freedom of speech also means that you, as a newspaper publisher, are free to print what you like, reject what you like, and run a front-page story insisting that the moon is made out of green cheese if you like.

  6. Don (no longer) Fluffy

    As I said on my blog, “$12,000 for a part time job? Where do I apply?

  7. Dona Tracy

    Well then, in terms of out-sourcing the news, what differenct does it make?A newspaper can simply print anything it likes. There is no integrity. The articles and news can be written by anyone including third graders.So who cares? And what if anything can be done about it? My guess is nothing. So why bother writing about the status quo which cannot be changed?

  8. Dan Kennedy

    Dona: A news organization that prints anything it likes, regardless of whether it’s true, will pay a huge price in terms of loss of readers, loss of credibility and the like. It could also find itself in legal trouble if it publishes material that is false and defamatory. All I’m saying is that the First Amendment guarantees the government cannot censor or determine what’s good or bad journalism. It’s up to us citizens to decide that. Thank God.

  9. Dona Tracy

    Dan, I understand and appreciate what you are saying and for taking the time to say it but how can a reader know whether or not a news site had integrity enough to decide not to go there as a credible choice? And who is to call a new site on it when it publishes defamatory and false material?

  10. Dona Tracy

    PS. I am glad the government can’t decide. I, as many others, have no faith in government as it is run by politicians. But I did have a certain amount of faith in journalistic ethics. I know, how naive could I be?

  11. Peter Porcupine

    And now, we return you to our regularly scheduled programming (I think Walter banned Dona again).I’ve been thinking about this post all day, and am having trouble determining how it differs from local reporting now.It’s been a long time since I read a quote in my paper that was gathered at the event, hot and angry, as opposed to over the phone later on, cool and crafted. Most local reporters do exactly what is being described now – watch hearings and selectmen’s meetings on local government access and write a precis, which an editor can punch up with a few phone calls for quotes. How does that differ from what is being proposed?I am afraid the boat may have sailed on this a while ago. I remember talking to a ‘town’ reporter about gay marriage, and he asked me why I thought what I did. I said, IMO, the problem began with Birmingham. With a straight face, this college graduate ‘journalist’ said, ‘Who is that?’ When I explained, I asked him how long he had been working for the paper. He told me six months, and asked if that town meeting thing had been a big deal.Bangalore doesn’t look so bad.

  12. Mohan

    I agree with Dona Tracy though I would tend to think that this ‘news’ is about So why status quo changing as we speak…though it is not really a radical ‘trend’ Friedman talked extensively about such jobs, aided by technology, getting flattened; right?

  13. Dan Kennedy

    If a reporter goes to a city council or school committee meeting or whatever, he or she does no favors to readers by banging out two or three boring stories. The idea is to see and be seen, develop sources, get to know city officials and other players, and use all that to develop stories. And, of course, to write a story when warranted. Sorry, but you can’t do all that from Bangalore. However, if your view of city hall coverage is stenography, then yes, you can do it from anywhere.

  14. Peter Porcupine

    Dan – do not misunderstand me – I do not think town hall reporting SHOULD be stenography. I think that is what it has BECOME.We are losing our small weeklies, who were willing to cover this throught mergers and attrition.

  15. Rick in Duxbury

    Peter P,We need to expect more from journos and call them on it when they fall short. Over the weekend, a Channel 7 newsbabe, (“bubble-headed bleach-blond” according to The Eagles), announced repeatedly that a sailing yacht was overdue on a trip from the “VIRGINIA” Islands. That one of the crew was the daughter of a Walpole school principal was immaterial, apparently. Sigh….PS, is it true that Channel 7 gets their people on streetcorners at dawn shape-ups, like migrant landscaping crews? Here today, gone tomorrow.(Apologies to Randy and Frances..)

  16. Anonymous

    We’re sure this isn’t an ONION piece, right?

  17. mike_b1

    PP, are we really losing our small weeklies? In Boston, at least, there are tons of them.

  18. man who's a radio fan

    A news organization that prints anything it likes, regardless of whether it’s true, will pay a huge price in terms of loss of readers, loss of credibility and the like. It could also find itself in legal trouble if it publishes material that is false and defamatory.If this were true, then Fox News wouldn’t exist by now.

  19. YS

    Dona: A news organization that prints anything it likes, regardless of whether it’s true, will pay a huge price in terms of loss of readers, loss of credibility and the like.Tell that to the Weekly World News.While its not quite “Green Cheese,” this week has a story involving the moon.

  20. Local Editor

    I don’t know a single reporter who gets the story by watching public access and then turning it over to the editor to “punch it up.”About the only time anyone reviews the videotape is if there was a scheduling conflict and the reporter couldn’t be in two places at once.

  21. Webcastboy

    Not quite the same thing, but apparently WBOS is “outsourcing” their morning news breaks to WGBH.Here’s the story reported by the Globe.Besides wondering a bit why WBOS is taking WGBH’s news as opposed to WBUR, I wonder if this could be precedent-setting. Much has been made of WRKO firing their entire local news staff and running only the nat’l Metro news feed. Many other commercial stations have newscasts that pathetically wretched as well. But at the same time, it’d seem rather weird for “liberal” news from NPR to air on “conservative” talker WRKO, eh?

  22. Don (no longer) Fluffy

    Good grief. This much attention to the happenings in Pasadena. I’ll bet 7 out of 10 people don’t even know where Pasadena is. And was that California or Florida, or maybe Missouri where they have lots of unusual city names?

  23. Lisa Williams

    I actually do cover many meetings via TiVoing local access cable broadcast of meetings. But I don’t consider my site, H2otown, to be a substitute for a local newspaper, and in no case do I try to hide how I’m doing what I’m doing — in fact, my TiVo’s encyclopedic knowledge of town has become a running joke. What would bother me is if these reports in Pasadena weren’t transparent. Readers should know HOW the story is produced, particularly if most readers would otherwise assume that the story was gotten the old-fashioned way, that is, by in-person reporters. One of the most popular features of my site is very short (2-3 minute) video clips of the interesting parts of the often very long meetings. I don’t pretend these are journalism either; they’re just a modest, useful service, much like the “2 minute replays” that TV networks now offer to help a viewer catch up on an episode of a TV drama they missed. (I also do more conventional writeups of issues that come up at meetings, generally one or two for each meeting). Recently some of these were featured at the Globe, the local FOX affiliate, and I think channel 5, when a colorful local pol got in hot water. (None of them credited the source, by the way. *Shrug.*)I have a question that I’m not sure how to phrase…let me try: I think that not many reporters stay for a long time at a small or regional newspaper, simply because they see it as a stepping stone in their career. There are also fewer family-owned papers. The result is, sometimes, a newspaper with a very impoverished institutional memory. A lot of what’s significant that happens at those meetings I watch can only be appreciated if you know the backstory. But if long-term coverage and institutional memory are a thing of the past already, it’s one more step on the road to someone thinking that they don’t need to send a reporter at all.

  24. Dona Tracy

    Peter Porcupine, no Walter Brooks of didn’t ban me (again), he is much more insidious than that. As you well know. In fact the first time I left, it was my choice due to his application of arbitrary and capricious RULES that only applied to me. I am acutely aware of his censorship regarding the Cape Wind project but I suspect that is just the tip of the iceberg. Although, I suspect the fact that Cape Wind is pouring mega advertising bucks into that site accounts for much of his censorship.Call me idealistic but when a newspaper flatly states it doesn’t take sides on issues, is open to all opinion and promotes itself as a site for freedom of speech but does the opposite, something is terribly wrong.

  25. Peter Porcupine

    Dona – I left that site partially over a year ago, and completely a few months ago. As have others.And I left because I did not approve of arbitrary censorship AND stories that were run. I haven’t spoken to Walter for quite a while, so I don’t ‘well know’ anything. I will say that it is this style of uninformed and insinuational commentry that got you into trouble there in the first place.

  26. Dona Tracy

    Uniformed? No one is more informed than those of us who have experienced censorship, deletion and alteration of comments, Peter Porcupine. You yourself admit to leaving because of arbitrary censorship and the stories that were run and to not well knowing anything at this point. Yet you call my standing up to censorship uninformed and insinuational? I believe the worst thing we can do about censorship is nothing at all.We disagree about Cape Wind. So be it. I, personally, have no problem with that. But I do have a problem with false advertising, false statements, silencing public debate and arbitrary and capricious rules.

  27. Peter Porcupine

    “Peter Porcupine, no Walter Brooks of didn’t ban me (again), he is much more insidious than that. As you well know.”Dona – you are insinuating that Walter and I are somehow in cahoots to keep you down. I have flatly stated this is not the case. So you repeat your allegation, only louder.Give Walter credit for being able to have disagreements on a VARIETY of fronts, since he and I both oppose your cause celebre, stopping Cape Wind. Unless that is what you mean by insidious.Walter is a great success – his paper is a prototype for the future. His Achilles’ heel is his capriciousness in censoring viewpoints. But I simply left, and asked that my material be deleted. It’s his candy store, and it’s not like you could be surprised by his actions any more.

  28. Dan Kennedy

    Speaking of “censoring viewpoints” … I may start to do exactly that if Media Nation is going to turn into a forum for debating what’s right and wrong about Cape Cod Today. I think it’s fair to say that Dona and Peter have both made their points known, and I ask that they now let it rest.

  29. Anonymous

    @ Rick in Duxbury said… (“bubble-headed bleach-blond” according to The Eagles)Actually that was Don Henley “Dirty Laundry” – post-Eagles 🙂

  30. Rick in Duxbury

    Point taken, 12:30. However, I prefer the later version ….(

  31. amusedbutinformedobserver

    It is impossible to cover a meeeting of a Board of Selectmen, City Council, Planning Board, School Committee or other municipal body by watching the tape. It has been aptly pointed out that there is a difference between reporting and stenography.As one who covered such yawn-fests before cable television entered the picture, I point out that many of today’s elected officials understand when they are on camera and preen accordingly. These public access channels generally keep the camera on the person talking, and simply cannot convey the room dynamics.If you’re covering by watching, you can’t go through the tube and ask to see a document, take note of who showed up to watch, ask a board member why he or she was uncharacteristically silent, ask another board member why they took a walk during a vote, or get quotes from people who are still in the heat of the moment and haven’t had the chance to sanitize their thoughts. You don’t see the arguments on the steps of town hall, or pick up the snippets of gossip that turn into stories later.I’m gathering signatures for a constitutional amendment requiring a year of covering selectmen’s meetings for every “bubble-headed bleach-blond and “bubble-headed bleach-blonde” who longs to be a “broadcast journalist.” We’ll also prohibit co-op jobs and internships at television stations national newsmagazines and daily papers until the applicant has slogged through a 45-article town meeting and can explain how to calculate a tax rate

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