Wednesday, June 20

Outsourcing of city reporting: Will it become a trend?

This news/blog headline caught my eyes a couple weeks or so ago -- A catchy question indeed. I skimmed through the story and bookmarked it.

Like many, the only major thing I can recall of Pasadena, the small town outskirt of Los Angeles that's suddenly being buzzed about by so many American journalists today, is it's being a host to world's famous Rose "American College Football" Bowl game and the Tournament of Roses Parade in the morning of the same game day -- I was there myself once having just driven some 3,000+ miles during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan, to watch Michigan Wolverine clinching its controversial National Championship title on 1 JAN 1998 (yes, my Muslim friends and I had to stand up throughout all three hours of the game, cheering for our favorite sports team, without any eating or drinking in between until fast-breaking time by the game's end time!).

I didn't had the time to truly explore this story which turned out to have been made a huge topic within the journalists' world during the past five plus weeks, prompting mentioning in over 50,000 web pages and discussion group posts as of today, as observed through a test Google search. The story also traveled progressively into dozens of mainstream media -- TV, magazines, newspapers and news agregators throughout the months of May and June until this week.

Pasadena (US):What began as a simple business decision for Pasadena, California web publisher Jason Macpherson to outsource some of his news writing to a couple of reporters in India has become a major media debate.

Macpherson, the publisher of Pasadena Now that covers news and current affairs in the southern California town near Los Angeles, is now dealing with both bouquets and brickbats for his decision to hire two reporters in Mumbai and Bangalore to write about city council meetings.

Read more at BPOwatchIndia which took the story from Indo Asia News Service (IANS) -- credited for this blog post's title.

The story was perhaps first written by Justin Prichard with assistance from Matthew Rosenberg (contributing from New Delhi, India), both of whom are writers for the Associated Press, and published as early as Thursday, 10 MAY 2007.

The job posting in Craiglist wrote "We seek a newspaper journalist based in India to report on the city government and political scene of Pasadena, California, USA.", an advertisement supposedly made by James MacPherson, editor and publisher of a two-year old Pasadena-based website, Pasadena Now (The post is no longer on Craiglist website as of now).

Prichard dictates, "
Outsourcing first claimed manufacturing jobs, then hit services such as technical support, airline reservations and tax preparation. Now comes the next frontier: local journalism."

With regards to his decision, Macpherson explained, "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."

"Pasadena city spokeswoman Ann Erdman said coverage from afar shouldn't pose problems if the articles are well-edited. In any case, she said, 'Local government is certainly not in the practice of dictating to local business whom they can hire and where those employees should live.' (AP, 10may07)

The next day, Newsweek published a telephone interview with Macpherson tackling on the issues of "How it plans to cover city-council meetings from afar, and why local journalists are unimpressed."

The job details, as MacPherson enthusiastically revealed to Newsweek's Andrew Murr: "both writers are responsible for producing two 500-word [news] articles a day, six days a week, plus two feature stories each week, which will be a little bit longer, probably 700 words. The most expensive reporter is getting $1,000 a month, in U.S. dollars... (the less expensive reporter) is getting around $600 a month, a little bit over."

Just days later however, one day before the official launch of the stories by the two new reporters, a man from Mumbai and a woman from Bangalore, AP reported that MacPherson who "has been so overwhelmed by handling reaction to his plan that he had to postpone publication of their first stories." (Monday, 14 MAY 2007).

Since then, Macpherson has spoken with more newspapers, TV and radio stations than he can name and hasn't had time to do interview requests from as far away as Australia and France. Hundreds of responses nearly shut down his e-mail account and vaulted from obscurity to a destination for those wondering what was going on." (Associated Press)

Barbara Enrenreich, an author of several best-selling books and a contributing writer for several publications including the New York Times, Harpers and Time magazine, blasted, "
Excuse me, but isn't this more or less what former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair was fired for - pretending to report from sites around the country while he was actually holed up in his Brooklyn apartment?"

Two weeks after this news first broke out, Jennifer Woodard Maderazo, a San Francisco-based associate editor of PBS MediaShift, elaborated at length on why outsourcing local news to India might not work, citing preventive reasons summarized into four phrases: distance, cultural differences, trust and lack of savings.

As Pritchard highlighted in the original news story, Maderazo continued analyzing the earlier case with British news agency Reuters running "an operation in the technology capital of Bangalore that churns out Wall Street stories based on news releases (AP)", which on the other hand, have worked decently well since 2004. Maderazo's in-favor arguments with regards to outsourcing to India includes availability of high quality labor, optimized use of technology and more local content (than not at all!).

Now, what does all these buzzes have anything to do with Pajamanation? If you have been a reader of this blog for some time now, you would have guessed that Pajamanation, instead manufacturing, trading or selling pajamas or any other textiles, promote work-from-home or fractional work culture, which for decades have been closely associated with freelancing, outsourcing or offshoring.

Not quite!

The problem with traditional outsourcing (the 80s stigma!) in the case of American industries targeting purported considerable savings through cheaper labor like in India is the possibility of shipping away legitimate jobs from one nation to another which would be deemed as a societal havoc to many nationalists of a particular country. But what if the so-called employment wouldn't exist anyway if the particular work assignment isn't outsourced?

Furthermore, the enticement
for Malaysian companies to oursource jobs to offshore wouldn't be as grand as US-based ones to India or even Malaysia. After all, our local labors are still rather affordable for most employers -- Enter inshoring that made wave since the late 90s. The problem with inshoring however, Malaysia seems to lack of local talents or micropreneurs to insource such fractional work assignments. Hence, modeled after the success of Elance and perhaps, it should be a simple job to assemble sufficient Malaysia-based talents, just by having a solid local presence for marketing and support. But, doesn't that means that jobs will also get stolen from corporations and SMEs to micropreneurs and freelancers, even though the jobs don't get shipped out of the country? A societal havoc, locally too!

If we have learned enough from the Open Source culture since the early 90s, and the Web 2.0 wave all through the past decade, crowdsourcing is the new in-thing and it's here to stay. Unlike outsourcing or even insourcing, new microjobs are continuously being created by the community of microworkers themselves, instead of being handed over by corporations. Many of these microworking community members, ended up become micropreneurs and later turn their crowdsourced work into a legitimate profit-making businesses or even large business entities like Redhat, YouTube, Friendster, Myspace, Digg,, Imeem etc. and not-for-profit entities like Ubuntu and Wikipedia.

But are crowdsourcing only for creating Web 2.0 sites? Not for long! Back to original talk about journalism, imagine establishing your own, solid web-based media like PasadenaNow, or in our local case, MalaysiaKini, MalaysiaToday and TheCicak. To earn their share of loyal audience in the industry that is already saturated with the sites that are backed by mainstream media corporations like Media Prima, Utusan Group, Astro, Karangkraf, The Star, Harakah or Bernama, these indy sites need original pieces and site maintenance that would require tens/hundreds of employees completing varied tasks including but not limited to graphics design, writing, transcription, translating, editing, photographing, server maintenance, marketing, PR, support, sales, accounting, investigative reporting, videocaster, audiocaster, post-production, programming, miscellaneous secretarial work, and the list goes on to cover perhaps 100+ tasks/micro assignments.

If each employee is to be paid at least RM 20,000 a year, employing 20 employees would consume RM 400,000 a year just for salaries. Added with the cost for a modest office setup and operation, another RM 50-200K is needed. Not a small, independent business anymore, eh? And what happened if you need to scale down operations after six months -- not a good move if you were to lay people off -- these people depended solely on you, the employer for food on their tables!

With crowdsourcing using tools like however, you can build a scalable business with 1-5 permanent staff, and 'employing' dozens to 100+ microworkers and/or outsourcing short-term assignments to micropreneurs, both local and foreign-based, and still complete your projects, i.e. this independent media website, within controlled cost and time.

If one is bold enough, he or she as a micropreneur and project manager can also venture into offline media like publishing own magazines and newsletters (if not complete newspapers). Consider that every major cities like Georgetown, Ipoh, Alor Star, Kota Bharu down to Kuantan, Shah Alam, Petaling Jaya, Kuala Lumpur, Bandar Melaka, Seremban and Johor Bahru and further to Kota Kinabalu, Miri and Kuching can have their own local newspapers. Heck, even small towns or less dense districts like Padang Besar, Sintok, Jitra, Kulim, Langkawi, Balik Pulau, Bayan Baru, Sg. Ara, Butterworth, Taiping, Manjung, Selayang, Kajang, Sepang, Putrajaya, Jasin, Jelebu, Pekan, Cameron Highlands, Kerteh, Besut, Tumpat, Pasir Mas, Skudai, Muar, Batu Pahat, Labuan, Sandakan, Tawau, Lahad Datu, Sibu, Bintulu etc. can also have their own town papers and miscellaneous local periodicals -- Remember MacPherson's PasadenaNow for the small town of Pasadena (and tens of thousands other local publications for respective towns across the USA and around the world)? How about the dozens of student campuses for higher learning institutes in Malaysia too that seem to clearly lack the voices of the 600,000+ students at any time of the year?

And why stop at just print media? If getting a broadcast-to-air license might prove to be almost impossible, podcasting could be a good avenue to deliver your audio and video content to the local audience.

Who are going to take these challenges to deliver to their local community (what present mainstream media CAN'T!) ? Pajamanation Malaysia wants to recruit at least 100 micropreneurs and 1,000 microworkers from every states of Malaysia.

And what's next after news reporting? Try books, advertising and marketing, financial services, secretarial work, creative content creation, software development, product design, biotech research, electronics testing and see where I'm going? (The sky's the limit!)

Macpherson: 'We’re online. We have to be very lean and mean.'

The question is, are you a future-driven entrepreneur? Join us: Register today!

(At the time I'm posting this blog entry, Pajamanation has registered well over 2,000 potential microworkers from well over 50 countries -- Malaysia, as one of the top-10 countries in terms of members and visitorship, contribute about 7% of total new registrants and daily web traffic).

Related stories:-
  • Outsourcing Journalism to China -- The editorial bureau was launched in Maria Trombly's "Shanghai apartment... the real action is online."

  • Fons Tuinstra's "Caught between the Cold War and the Internet" (PDF - Nieman Reports, Fall 2004)

  • Outsourcing Journalism to Malaysia? ;-)(


  1. www.Visitopia.Com does similar things..

  2. CTL, Visitopia seems like a different animal altogether. It's more of a franchise opportunity rather than an insourcing one.

    It's very creative for the site owner though to make money out of the very act of 'outsourcing', and a decent potential, I must say -- Multiply with the number of countries out there, you'll be seriously in business, while other people (who paid you) do most of the work...


  3. Influential journalism at work, or Macpherson is just a master in marketing (hypes travel faster than truth):-

    "Date: 2007-06-20, 10:44AM PDT

    Full time lead reporter wanted for daily online community newsmagazine, Pasadena Now ( More than anything, we need a reporter who is a self starter and works to dominate local news coverage with scoops and thorough, professional reporting. Qualified applicants should be personable, flexible, aggressive, and hard working as well as be able to write hard news and feature stories in addition to being familiar with AP style. Expect to cover breaking and daily stories. Some night and weekend work may be needed to cover special stories. Photographic skills a huge plus. Willingness to speak on camera (video) also a huge plus. Pasadena is an unusually diverse, fast-growing city of 140,000+ with more culture, education, and fascinating people than most cities ten times its size. Email resume, sample stories and other media work to the attention of James Macpherson at jamesm@XXXXX"


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