Local news reporting outsourced to India

A US online newspaper is planning to cover its local political reporting virtually by outsourcing its City Hall patch to India.

PasadenaNow.com, a small online paper started in 2005 with an ethos of “daily deadlines, plenty of shoe leather and a gruelling schedule of personally attending dozens of community events every month”, posted a job advertisement to the Bangalore edition of classifieds site Craigslist.org: “We seek a newspaper journalist based in India to report on the city government and political scene of Pasadena, California, USA.”

Editor James Macpherson told the AP local political reporting could now be done from afar as staff stringers in India, who command lower salaries, could watch Pasadena City Council meetings on the internet.

“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 said. “Whether you’re at a desk in Pasadena or a desk in Mumbai, you’re still just a phone call or e-mail away from the interview.”

Many observers initially believed the report to be a satirical hoax and some expressed dismay.

One Pasadena politics blogger, Centinel, acknowledged tough economic times in the media industry but said: “At the least, it would be very difficult to understand the issues Pasadena faces, from a development perspective, without having your feet on the ground, without walking the streets of Pasadena.

“It’s difficult to imagine anyone being able to offer original content on the renovation of Pasadena’s City Hall without ever being able to visit.”

But some local bloggers saw merit in the move. Jill Davis at Eye-Level Pasadena thought it was “an amazing idea”: “James Macpherson was not employing journalists at Pasadena Now previously from what I understand. It doesn’t sound like anyone is being laid off or replaced by journalists in India. These are new writers being hired. This is news coverage that adds to the coverage we have available now.”

Reuters already maintains an office in India for some 100 journalists covering US business, while newspapers in Columbus, Ohio, and Contra Costa, California were also due to move production jobs to the country, according to previous reports.

A World Association of Newspapers study released last summer showed how outsourcing is now plays “a major part” in the industry; in 2004, CNET announced it was off-shoring some of its editorial work to India, other US news bureau work from China, too.

Macpherson said he had hired two Indian reporters, one a journalism school graduate from nearby University of California, Berkeley, at a combined $20,800 (£10,400) annually. They will write 1,000 words every weekday, the first due online today.

Many industry observers, most notably Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, have long warned Craigslist.org threatens newspapers for a different reason – because it makes classifieds ads free to publish. But PasadenaNow.com’s advert on the site will raise eyebrows for a different reason.