Nov 29, 2008

The virtue of cheap*

Maureen Dowd of the New York Times profiles reluctant visionary James Macpherson, who has changed the course of journalism by hiring Indian workers for cheap to transcribe Pasadena City Council meetings and rewrite city press releases for his online publication, Pasadena Now:
It’s not easy being a visionary, he said: “I have essentially been five years ahead of the world for a long time, and that’s a horrible address at which to live because people look at you, you know, like you’re nuts.”
*UPDATED: (Via LA Observed) Macpherson blogs about his system of using nonprofessional sources to gather video and audio so that it can be used by reporters in India to write a story under the direction of a trained editor. The whole thing reads like a long rationalization: If one experienced editor oversees an operation, it doesn't matter how untrained or distant the newsgatherers might be. Indeed, if you set the standards low enough, most anything is possible.


Anonymous said...

Your objections to what my friend James MacPherson is doing remind me of a story about the old-time evangelist Dwight Moody. When some guy said he didn't like Moody's tent-meeting revival style of evangelism, Moody replied, "I like my way of doing it better than your way of NOT doing it."

That is exactly what is happening here. Obviously having everything local is better, but regular newspapers are NOT doing that job. I subscribe to the Star-News and it barely covers the highlights of what is going on the SV Valley. It used to cover every city council meeting, planning commission meeting and school board meeting and police-blotter crime in the West SV Valley. It doesn't come within a hundred miles any more.

It seems to me that it is no longer a debate between good journalism and better journalism; it is a debate between whether we should have journalism or not have journalism. James is showing one way to do it. You got a better way? Then you go right ahead and show us how it's done.

- Brad Haugaard

Anonymous said...

Pardon me: "SG Valley," for "San Gabriel Valley," not "SV Valley." - Brad

Anonymous said...

Hummm, Mr. Haugaard,

I'm sorry to burst your bubble but newspapers are a dying industry. Is it better to let it die peacefully - a victim of new technology - or to make it a long, painful death by firing local talent and hiring cheap, unqualified labor overseas?

I think you already made up your mind.

Check back in a couple of years, when Pasadena Now is no longer a stronghold of newspaper readership (sic) and I'll show you how NOT to save the newspaper industry.

Anonymous said...

the business is changing and evolving and has done so at a much faster pace since the early 1990's.

the industry need not die, but, rational profit expectations and running a business to that end is not that complicated.

if owners and operators of newspapers can't figure that out then they will die.

readers and advertisers will vote with their dollars if the product makes sense or not.

it isn't tough to make the mid teens in margin or greater. if they can do that at the sgv newspaper group it can be done in most places.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the comments of "Hummm,"

Pardon me, but "cheap" and "overseas" does not equal "unqualified." Obviously there is a learning curve for overseas workers, but it is facilitated by local editors. Lots of Indians speak and write English well and have even been educated at top U.S. colleges.

Further, I am under no illusion that newspapers are dying, which is PRECISELY WHY I support James' efforts to provide an alternative venue for the news.

I agree that local, highly trained people are best, but it does not seem we have that luxury anymore. If we did, why are newspapers hacking away at their newsrooms?

So then James comes along and has the audacity to try a new system, something that may not produce the absolute best possible quality, but at least is something that is *possible,* and all he gets is people ragging on him.

I repeat my challenge: If you've got a better way than what James is doing, why don't you go right ahead and show us how it's done instead of sneering at the one guy who is at least attempting to keep local journalism alive.

- Brad

Anonymous said...

Well, Mr. Haugaard,

The fact that your cheap laborers in India will not be able to knock on the door at say, Government Official "X" who is being probed for corruption charges (Lord knows it's it would be hard even for local reporters) deems them not qualified to do the job properly due to their location, does it not?

Brad said...

I agreed with you that local is better and that someone local could more easily knock on Government Official X's door and ask questions, though Indians are as capable of using telephones as anyone else. And with Skype it would be easy.

But be that as it may, I never said that the whole job of journalism could be done from India. But because all of the job can't be done in India does not mean that none of the job can be done from India.

The basic point remains that newspapers are failing and James is trying to find a way for local journalism to exist, but all you are doing is carping. If you don't like his solution, please show us what YOUR solution is.