Can journalists be outsourced?

24 07 2009

Today’s world is all about global collaboration, opening of resources and creating accessibility. You see it almost everywhere in jobs, businesses and the economy.

Pulitzer Prize winner, NY Times columnist and author Thomas L. Friedman writes much about this 21st century phenomenon  in “The World Is Flat.”

Though the book didn’t focus on the news industry, it got me thinking: if Friedman is explaining how virtually all industries are being affected by globalization and new technologies, what about a news company like the very one he works for?

Courtesy of Kewei Shang

Courtesy of Kewei Shang

There’s a likely chance the customer service person you’re speaking with on the phone about your U.S. product is, in fact, not from the U.S. but working in a call center in Bangalore, India.

The several hundred parts used to construct the laptop or computer you are using to read this post can undoubtedly be traced to dozens of different countries (don’t worry, Friedman did the dirty work for me)

Much of today’s technology and past world history contributes to the shift being witnessed in the global economy. Part of  this shift, as illustrated above, is about cutting out unnecessary hindrances and costs.

For example, when was the last time you bought a plane ticket through a travel agent? The internet allows people to cut out the middle man (or woman) and directly purchase tickets through Web sites like Orbitz and Expedia.

Friedman’s book got me thinking: with almost every job sector experiencing the effects of globalization (good and bad of globalization), in/outsourcing and some sort of “flattening” process, what about the news industry? Can journalism be outsourced?

I quickly dismissed this thought as foolish – outsourcing something like manufacturing of computer parts and customer service I understand, but journalism? No way. Sadly, a quick Google search proved me wrong.

A news site in Pasadena, Calif. has been outsourcing their news staff for several years now. Apparently, you can be separated by ocean’s distance and still cover the Pasadena City Council.

Hitting closer to home, MediaNews Group, which owns the Los Angeles Daily News where I am currently interning, has considered outsourcing for a while to cut costs in response to the current state of the news industry.

Of course, advancing technology and new media is allowing more and more journalists to be mobile (and I’m using the term mobile journalist to the most extreme case).

It’s kind of scary to see journalists being weighed and scrutinized as mere financial pawns, but it makes sense on a business level.

If a news company trying to cut costs looks at a U.S. reporter that costs 30,000 dollars a year to keep versus a Indian reporter that will cost a fraction of that (with comparable education and experience), it’s a no brainer.

And like virtually all industries experiencing the same thing, this means competition is fiercer; you’re not just competing for that job with other people in your neighborhood, city, state and country, but people all around the world. Except they might have equal or even superior experience, work ethic and education, and are willing to work for fraction of the salary you demand.

So what do you do? Here is an excerpt from the book:

“There is only one message: You have to constantly upgrade your skills. There will be plenty of good jobs out there in the flat world for people with the knowledge and ideas to seize them”.

Four ways to stay relevant and competitive:

1. Be special – In any industry, there are those who are stand apart from the rest. Whether that is the Michael Jordan of basketball or Bill Gates of computer technology, they are the leaders of industry.

2. Be specialized – Are you expendable? Find a skill or service that cannot be outsourced. If you’re a CD manufacturer or retailer, I have bad news. But it’s not just the low-skilled jobs anymore. Same goes for the financial equity researcher, engineer and medical researcher. The trouble with being specialized is that one day, your skill set is unique and hard to come by and the next, easily ready and widespread.

3. Be anchored – Last time I checked you can’t offshore your local barber or car repairman. Some jobs must be done in a specific location, involving face to face contact with a customer, client patient or audience. Again, the trouble with this is that with advancing technology, these state of these services can change.

4. Be really adaptable – The majority of people will fit under this category. Keep up with your latest industry standard and news. Attend workshops, spend time acquiring new skills and researching recent trends. The good thing about convergence and globalization is that, though there is increased competition, the competition also creates new job fields. Twenty years ago, there was no such thing as a multimedia editor. Less than ten years ago, there was no such thing as a social media editor. The key is to always be on your toes and to keep an open eye and ear to new ideas and changing trends.

In addition, Ryan Garfat, senior online editor for the Daily News, added in saying the content aspect of journalism is what is much less likely, and harder, to be outsourced. However, he said the Daily News’ copy desk has undergone insourcing of sorts. They now work for several newspapers around the area.

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