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Farming out journalism

Dec. 8: Many newspapers in the last couple of years have turned to outsourcing the management of circulation, printing and even advertising. But within a two-week period this November, two major newspapers in North America started using the “O” word too, this time on the editorial side.

Outsourcing Journalism

Outsourcing Journalism

“My heart says it’s not good,” said Thomas Warhover, an associate professor of print and digital news at the Missouri School of Journalism. “I’m an old copy editor among other jobs I’ve had in this career, I hear these things and it gives me pause.” Warhover said long ago, his father could go to work at the brewery every day and be secure in his job. That confidence has since melted away – especially in the newspaper industry.

Staff editor from the New York Times News Service Kenneth Walsh admitted in his blog, Kenneth in the (212), that while times are grim for journalists everywhere, he and fellow employees felt a sense of “false confidence” that the paper couldn’t afford to lose them. After all, several rounds of cuts had already been made to their department. They were wrong.

Last month, The New York Times revealed that at least 25 of the 30 staff members at the New York Times News Service would be outsourced to The Gainesville Sun. The Florida-based newspaper, which is also owned by The New York Times Company, is comprised of a non-union newsroom that is paid lower salaries. “I know I’ll be alright, but it still hurts knowing that the profession I’ve dedicated my life to is slowly evaporating before my very eyes,” wrote Walsh. “Little by little we’ve come to accept lower standards in media, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. (How soon before there are no editors at all?)”

The Times’ revelation came on the heels of the Toronto Star’s announcement that about 100 union editing jobs would be contracted out. “Star readers will be shocked to hear that core aspects of its daily journalism, that vital role in our society, are now to be farmed out, likely to foreign interests,” said Star union head Maureen Dawson in a press release provided by the CNW Group. In response, staffers from the Star launched a Facebook page titled “Stop Outsourcing Journalism Jobs.” The page bears a statement to the world: “The practice of outsourcing is bad for Canadians, bad for journalism and bad for the professionals who work in the field. Protest this practice. Your industry may be next.” In an update, Bloomberg reported that the official number of cuts was 78 on the editorial side and that Star jobs would go to Pagemasters of North America, a division of the Canadian Press.

Warhover, who was a copy editor, wire editor, metro editor and city hall reporter for the Virginian-Pilot prior to his career as an educator, said outsourcing has been going on in one shape or form for a long time. While content sharing between news mediums could be considered outsourcing, the real problem, he believes, is when it comes to local news. “Where is the local expertise? Where are the local sensibilities? How well can you trust the outsourced editing or information?” he said. “No one in Bangladesh can know Columbia, Missouri the way Columbia, Missouri copy editors can.”

Despite all the negative connotations associated with outsourcing, is it possible that the money saved could help the newspaper industry survive? According to reports from a survey produced by the World Association of Newspapers, outsourcing can save publishers 10 to 15 percent of in-house costs. Indeed, Walsh said in his blog that he and staffers were told by union reps that allowing non-Times editors to edit Times copy is about 50 percent cheaper. Meanwhile, the PEW’s Project for Excellence in Journalism 2009 State of the News Media reports that the history of newspapers suggests readers may turn away from a paper whose content starts to become too distant from its source.

For Warhover, the thought of outsourcing is not exactly sunny news. “It doesn’t make me happy,” he said. Even though “part of the question is dependent on where you’re outsourcing and to whom. It could even be better, doubtful, but it could be.”

In the face of all this, Warhover said he is not without hope, which he passes onto his students. “I tell them that life is a constant change, it is a moment of opportunity as well as a moment of loss. Just because there are fewer jobs of the definition that I might have had going out into the field, it doesn’t mean there aren’t jobs out there that do good journalism. It still exists, and what an exciting time.”

— Katrina M. Mendolera

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