Critics Think It's Better To Be Uninformed Than To Read Articles Written By Foreigners

from the the-news-blues dept

Earlier this week a news site in Pasadena caused a minor brouhaha when it announced that it would hire two journalists in India to cover the Pasadena city council, through the use of an internet video feed. Although outsourcing news writing is not a new thing, somehow the fact that the journalists would be covering local news has really set people off, particularly people who are already worried about things like the state of old media and the rise of globalization. Over at the HuffingtonPost, Barbara Ehrenreich decries the site’s plans (via Romenesko) and compares the whole thing to disgraced New York Times journalist Jayson Blair, who made up articles about events that he wasn’t at. This is a pretty ludicrous charge. The problem with Jayson Blair wasn’t just that he wasn’t where he said he was, but that he was actually making up quotes. A journalist in India watching a video feed of the city council can write just as good of an article as a reporter at the meeting. Presumably, Ehrenrich wouldn’t have a problem with an American journalist writing about a Congressional hearing that was observed on C-SPAN, but what’s the real difference? Instead of worrying that a job is being done by someone halfway overseas, we should be excited that technology and globalization are expanding the news business, so that even something like the Pasadena city council meeting can now be covered. Unfortunately, those who are in ideological agreement with Ehrenreich seem to have temporarily gotten their way, as the proprietor of the site says he’s been so overwhelmed by the negative reaction that he’s been unable to get the project going.

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Comments on “Critics Think It's Better To Be Uninformed Than To Read Articles Written By Foreigners”

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PaulT says:

Local knowledge?

I think the issue for me would be that the person writing the article would have no knowledge of the locality it affects. For instance, they could note the facts and outcomes of a council meeting, but would be unable to consider those facts in terms of the effect on the local community. In some ways, they migth as well just print automated transcripts for all the journalism that would be taking place..

TheDock22 says:

Re: Local knowledge?

I agree with this. Summarizing a city council meeting requires the journalist to ignore some of the “fluff” issues and focus more on the important issues that will affect the city. Without knowledge of the city, or state for that matter, the articles written by journalists not from the area might be taken out of context.

I am also not opposed to journalists in India for reporting on National issues, assuming they know enough about America to do a good job. My feelings would be the same though whether the Pasadena city council was covered by an Indian writer or one from North Dakota. Local events should be handled by local journalists.

skjfdhk says:

Re: Local knowledge?

You mean they would not have any bias? You mean they might actually be acting as journalists? I know that will upset a lot of folks that only like to read manipulative opnionated sensationalism. Get over… It is reporting not community activism. Does critical thought elude you?

comboman says:

Re: Re: Local knowledge?

You mean they would not have any bias? You mean they might actually be acting as journalists?

No, they’d be acting as stenographers. Journalists do more than just report events; they verify, analyze, place things in context. A good reporter can do that without bias, attempting to show all sides of an issue. Someone without any background on the events they’re reporting can’t do that and must take what is said at face value, which makes them automatically MORE biased toward (in this case) the city council. Bias doesn’t necessarily mean you have a hidden agenda or vested interest in one side over the other, it means you show only one side of an issue.

Hieronymus Blowhard says:

Re: Re: Re: Local knowledge?

Perhaps there are some motivated individuals in India who can do this job very well. Rather than try to compete with local knowledge, why not build a website with full transcripts that are super indexed. The job becomes one of organizing and maintaining a data structure. Then readers can read and process for themselves the wisdom of their local councilors.

yogi says:

There is a lot of information that cannot be

received via a video feed. such as – the atmosphere in the building, the tension in the room, the emotional state of the participants and so on. There is no substitute to being on the spot.
I would not like to get the news from people who do not live where the news is occurring and may completely miss or misinterpret information that a local would not.
(although to be honest i am less than thrilled with the coverage of people who are on the spot.)

BradS says:


As a practicing journalist for many years, I can say I’ve covered many meetings by watching a video feed, webcast or just on the phone. I can do it as well as someone who is there, with a couple of exceptions. I can’t grab someone after the meeting to get a question answered or get more detail. And, if this is a local story, I can’t really know the context and background if I’ve never been there.
I’m sure the Indian journalists can do a fine job writing a basic story, but there is value in being on the spot.

Jesse J. Derks says:

Yes and...

“I think the issue for me would be that the person writing the article would have no knowledge of the locality it affects. For instance, they could note the facts and outcomes of a council meeting, but would be unable to consider those facts in terms of the effect on the local community. In some ways, they migth as well just print automated transcripts for all the journalism that would be taking place..”

Yes, because they will likely miss not only context but also how it effects the people of the local community. At that point I do think they should just do pure transcripts because, unless these overseas reporters are somehow able to immerse themselves in local issues from the POV of the local citizen, they will be giving some pretty flat commentary.

Just because technology allows you to do something, doesn’t mean it’s going to be worthwhile. I’m sorry mate, I wouldn’t be up in arms over the fact that it can be done or that they are doing it simply because they are overseas. I’d be up in arms because this news source just became less useful than the kid down the street from my parents who does a weekly paper/online website for their community, The Junk Journal.


That kid at least can give some context. Just my 2 pence mate.

SFGary says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Yes and... (by Anon Coward)

I might agree that someone halfway around the world, or in fact, not in that meeting room may not be able to interpret the context, social or otherwise of the material.

But that still does not address why you picked on the Indian caste system, slick talkers et al?

Spork says:

I Don't Know....

“Instead of worrying that a job is being done by someone halfway overseas, we should be excited that technology and globalization are expanding the news business, so that even something like the Pasadena city council meeting can now be covered.”

Thing is I don’t see this as being a huge advancement from what is already being done in the media (note I say media instead of news because it’s all about ratings – even for news, but thats a side story). Technology and globalization is used currently in nearly all major events worldwide. The only difference here is that someone over seas is reporting on a local town instead of covering an over seas issue. I won’t get into the whole “outsourcing taking American jobs” debate, but I will say that I don’t see this as a real advancement at all.

Jamie B says:

I have been to India and they write better

I am a native of the USA, from Louisiana and Texas. Having lived in India for 2 months for computer training, I was fascinated with their newspapers. I believe the US newspapers have always had a rule that they are written on the 6th grade level. I found Indian papers to actually have more context, better grammar and were more interesting to read.

I support India writing our news.

Jamie B.
Texas, USA

Alex4640 says:

What about Aunt Bee?

For local city council news couldn’t you just pay x amount for a citizen to submit an article? I’m sure there are plenty of Seniors out there that are capable and willing to make a little money without wearing a Walmart vest! This is not about “Globalization” it’s about not caring about the locals, i.e. Americans. The “Main Stream Media” hates America and everyone in it.

That Guy says:

The real business of Journalism

Mike regularly posts about business not “knowing the business that they are in,” and I think that this is a perfect example of that.

Newspapers are in the trust business. People rely on them to not just provide raw facts, but to provide context for those facts. That context comes with researching and building a base of understanding that expands beyond the initial items of the story.

So this isn’t a story of people rejecting technology, or rejecting foreigners. I think the people would have been just as upset to know that a guy in his apt from Houston was covering the local chamber meetings as they would be hearing about two guys from India.

Most major communities make their chamber and city council meetings available either on TV cable access channels or via the Internet, and the minutes from chamber meetings are normally posted online by most major chambers. So why then would people read the paper?

People read the paper because they don’t want to take the time to sit through the meetings and they don’t want to read the minutes in full. They want someone to consolidate that information, research items brought up in the meetings, create local context, and then write stories from those meetings for them to read. Having remote writers only allows for the consolidating and writing of the stories, it doesn’t allow for proper research or context. Therefore the paper failed to delivery on its main product, which was trust.

Sanguine Dream says:

I can’t imagine it being cheaper to outsource such a simple task. So I guess the council wants a more nuetral telling of what happens in the meetings. More than likely all the people that attend meetings are biased on every issue so they wanted someone to be impartial that would not be affected by the rules, policies, decisions, etc. that come as a result of said meetings. But one would think they could have outsourced to next city or count before going out of the country.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You think Americans have a monopoly on writing well? Or is it that you want someone to write at, as Jamie B put it, the “6th grade level” in order to understand it? I admit that that might very well be a difficult proposition for an Indian reporter trained at one of America’s prestigious J-schools (the Graduate School of Journalism at U.C. Berkeley).

I can understand your frustration (and that of countless others) who aren’t able to understand the accents of underpaid call-centre workers. But whose fault is it really? Is it their fault that they are trying to make a living for themselves? I’m sure they do the best that they can, including trying to learn how to understand *your* accent. If you’re so miffed about it, start boycotting companies that have outsourced their support departments in order to let them know that you do not approve of their actions. Of course, if you own shares in a company that outsources and all that outsourcing makes you a tidy profit, you’d not really be complaining, right?

For years people have come to the melting pot that is America and worked hard there to achieve the ‘American Dream’, making money for themselves and America in the process. Now that the shoe’s on the other foot, some short-sighted people are crying themselves hoarse. If the global economy has changed, adapt to it and instead of complaining so much about not having jobs in America, go to India/China and work.

Big Business will always look for a way to generate profit because it is the bottom-line that’s King. Pretty soon, I’m sure the Indians and Chinese will start crying as someone else will come along and undercut their wages. Since we can’t fight what’s inevitable, let’s all learn to roll with the punches and do the best we can; and that includes learning to live in peace with one another.

lamarguy91 says:

So what about language subtleties? It will be required of course that the journalist in India be able to read, write, and speak english, but what about subtleties, sarcasm, and regional slang? One can’t expect someone in India to know all of the regionality information about an area in the US.

And before the negativity flies, yes, council members do use sarcasm, crack jokes, and make funnies on occasion. This is sometimes reported by journalists. I don’t want to see a “walk the dog” comment show up in a newspaper as “Councilman Joe went off on a random tangent about walking his dog in the middle of a conversation regarding school funding.”

brad says:

Outsourcing is good?

Just think of all the stuff we could outsource… We could have teachers in India teaching our kids via internet, our local news could be broadcast from India, we could have a court system where our judge is in Russia and Jury in china. Doctors could remotely check us out from Japan.

The U.S would be so much better off if that were the case…

I just wonder what country we could get to pay us not to work.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Outsourcing is good?

I just wonder what country we could get to pay us not to work.

With all these “free” trade happenings in foreign nations that’s almost what the US is expecting. They want to outsource labor for cheap and then extend their own patent laws into foriegn nations. In essence the US government is taking the RIAA scheme to the next level by trying to set up the US to own as much IP across the world as possible and use the profits from that to pay for the cheap foreign labor.

Larry Jorgenson says:

Here's a thought

We live in a free country. If you don’t want to read news reports written by people from India who watched it unfold over a video feed then DON’T. Get your news from another site who reports it the way YOU WANT IT. If nobody visits this particular Pasadena news site anymore it won’t take them long to figure out that it was a bad idea. Meanwhile those of you who are ticked about the outsourcing this company has done will hopefully have other choices to read your city council news.

Brian Mason says:

Oursourcing is bad !!!!

I have lost my job twice due to oursourcing. Tell me how this is a good idea? Who pays my wage when that happens. I can go to college for years , make a good living and because my job descides one day I make too much they have to outsource. I then loose my job. Instead of negotiating my wage at that, they just get rid of me. Pretty soon no one will have jobs here and the companies will have to move since no one here can afford anything. I dont think any company based here should be legally allowed to outsource anything if they make a profit from here for that. All labor that they make a profit from should be sourced from here therefore contributing to the economy HERE!!.

Queen Nefertiti says:

Re: Oursourcing is bad !!!!

Business is business. If they can get better results at a cheaper price, why not?

I can understand your rage. It’s quite an insult that one who earns much will be equated with a foreign outsource. Who knows perhaps that person is equally as good as you are.

Time to be one’s own boss. ๐Ÿ™‚

Bill says:

I think its great

The media and journalists have been generally uncritical and even supportive of outsourcing and the globalization trend in IT and other American industries.

In particlar I can recall a certain PBS talk show on outsourcing and globalization. The show focused on the Bush Administrations efforts to assist the U.S. Steel industry in the face of foreign competition. One member of the panel of talking heads on this program was a self-styled ‘liberal’ female journalist who nonetheless opposed the governments’ efforts as a form of protectionism. Additionally. she decried unrelated congressional attempts to stem IT outsourcing as further examples of protectionism which she was vehemently oppposed to. According to her, the only domestic workers worthy of government protection were coincidentally enough journalists. Indeed she provided a hypothetical scenario which such as in this story, although I think it was Canadian reporters who were outsourced. Of course, this struck me as extremely self-serving and outrageous.

As an outsourced IT worker, I can only say that this story provides me with a certain sense of satisfaction. I even wonder if the aforementioned woman is among the liberal journalists who are up in arms over this story. Ah, the irony.

tc1 uscg says:

Why not?

Ok, maybe mainstream media will lift their heads about the cubical wall and take notice of just how far outsourcing can be. Maybe what will get the attention of the govt is this.. Why can’t or don’t we outsource some of our govt? Hey, I think a rep or congressional member from India can do as good if not better job then what we have now. Do I have a problem paying them 1/3rd (including health care and flights to and from their country?) for the job. I’m sure we would get some unbiased results on issues that our current crew are payed off to see pass through the system. The only person we can’t outsource would be the president, Vp, and secret service. Other then that, take a pay cut, do you damn job and stop taking bribes (lobby money).

Fred Flint says:

America, what's your choice?

Of course, if you own shares in a company that outsources and all that outsourcing makes you a tidy profit, you’d not really be complaining, right?

This sort of thinking is currently making America not so great as it used to be…

Americans need to decide if they are capitalist, international citizens of the world and to Hell with the entire United States and everything and everyone in it – or if they are loyal, caring Americans first and money grubbers second.

So far, it seems the wealthy choose the former and the poor choose the latter. This does not bode well for the future.

Lightning Joe (user link) says:

Sweatshop Reporters?

This was my letter to the editor… bet they edit it pretty heavily:

What a great idea PasadenaNow’s management has had, to hire out reporting duties to contract “reporters” in India! This is a fabulous idea, and just in time to capitalize on the “Fake News” craze; but with a twist of its own. The hook here will be that, unlike “News” shows that slant or even make up news stories on behalf of a political agenda, you guys will be doing it for NO agenda at all; seemingly for the purity of misreported news itself. How bold! what a statement!

And what a brainstorm of a way to bring about that misreporting. It calls up echoes of Survivor and Lost, the “frision” of an alien landscape and cultural — let’s call it “co-dissonance” — as Indian nationals, working cheaper than American reporters, cover Pasadena politics over a TV link to Pasadena’s City Counsel meetings- and write it up as reporting.

Think of the possibilities! On one episode, you can have the contract reporters frustrated, because they don’t know what anyone is talking about, despite having learned English in school and from movies. Finally, they figure out that a bond measure must be a special sort of a tailor or draughtsman, but they’re still mystified as to why Americans number their tailors and vote on them, or pay them all that money.

Seriously, do you really think that watching people talk on TV and writing down what they say is all there is to reporting? That’s transcription. A reporter needs to know not only what a bond measure is, but the history of similar measures over the past five or ten years, who fielded those measures or initiatives and why, and citizens’ opinions of the outcomes of those efforts; in terms of how crowded the schools are now as opposed to five years ago, or whether traffic is worse or better.

Of course, you could bite the budget bullet, and just give the sweatshop reporters bottomless calling cards and a Pasadena phone book. Just remember, they’ll say they’re working for you, when they call city offices wanting to know why commercials are only shown in certain areas downtown, zoned for the purpose.

Lightning Joe (user link) says:

In support of Erenreich

And BTW, the article above misrepresented Ms. Erenreich’s comparison of this labor outsourcing proposal to the eponomous Jason Blair.

Her point was that, if the subsequent articles were not attributed to the overseas reporters (read: transcribists), they risk the same distortions Mr. Blair brought to his “reporting”. Mr. Blair’s worst sin, that he made up quotes, is secondary in a way to the bare fact that he was never THERE, in physical presence at the live locations and times he said he was; but had only viewed it on a screen, and reported (possibly quite faithfully) what he saw on that screen.

So what? So as to that facet of his reporting, it’s fully appropriate to compare his method of “reporting” with that of the proposed sweatshop reporters. He wasn’t there, and neither would they be.

If, as is common practice with newspapers (I don’t know about the site), small articles don’t get bylines, there would be no ready way for readers to tell that the reporters saw everything through a relatively fixed lens; heard nothing but officially miked sound; that they had no idea of what was happening in the halls and streets outside the counsel chambers (protests, blocks-long lines of commenters, whatever)

If Pasadena Now were to publish the articles without disclosure of their remote-viewing source, they would indeed create the same assumption in the minds of the reader, that Mr. Blair created in the minds of his readers — namely, that the commentary was produced by someone who was in the location, and witnessed the events. Would you be satisfied with that sort of masquerade, or would you want to know the provenance of the commentary?

That was Ms. Erenreich’s point, as I took it. That’s why she asks, in her article, if they are going to but it under a Delhi byline when they publish it. I think that might affect how people take it, in the Valley.

I say it’s too bad the site put the plan on hold. It would have been fun to watch the fallout.

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