News & Criticism

Outsourcing to India: Now It's a Tragedy

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The very heart of local news coverage–city council meetings–gets outsourced to India by Pasadena news site pasadenanow.com. This post from the "Foothill Cities" blog explains why that might be a bad idea–unless local journalism is to remain nothing but stenography for government officials.

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  1. Unless the dude who covers the city counsel meetings was getting $500k a year I find it hard to believe this saved a lot of money. Wow. I figured there was a floor under which they wouldn’t bother to send something overseas because the difference is too small.

    Lucky for me, there’s no way some guy in India can man the refried bean station at Taco Bell like I do. (Robots are going to be doing that).

  2. Pasadena – 11 May 2007 – In the news that is being of today, much has been spoken of the member of council who was feeling himself quite molested by local citizen peoples. Again this reporter is shrugging at the repeated silliness of Pasadena.

  3. I am new to Reason (no jokes please.) I am not a libertarian, but I am somewhat surprised to find a libertarian magazine taking a stand against offshoring.

    Nevertheless, I do hope that the Dean of every Econ Department sees this original craigslist advertisement.

    I see no reason to believe that Econ cannot be taught as well for less money by allowing Professors in India to teach the courses.

  4. I see what you’ve done there, Vishnu. Very clever.

    The outsourced articles will probably be better written than what the CA reporters produce, and better spelled, since the new reporters won’t be products of the fatheaded U.S. educational system.

  5. anon,

    I don’t know either what to make of Brian Doherty’s headline, the word “tragedy” at least, if that’s what you are referring to. No where in the Foothill Cities link does the writer call outsourcing to India a tragedy or even liken it to one.

  6. I too have a hard time mustering any sympathy for the dying art of gatekeeping, but I can see how this could cause some concern for small government types who’d like to see big brother replaced with the city council.

    “At the least, it would be very difficult to understand the issues Pasadena faces, from a development perspective, without having your feet on the ground, without walking the streets of Pasadena. To understand why Robin Salzer and Jacque Robinson both emphasized neighborhood security in their campaigns, it helps a lot to walk up and down the streets north of the 210, just to get a feel for the neighborhood. And it’s difficult to imagine anyone being able to offer original content on the renovation of Pasadena’s City Hall without ever being able to visit.”

    I’ve watched city councils in action–they can be quite responsive.

    And it ain’t the city council that’s taxing my income, forcing me into various ponzi scams and occupying other people’s countries on my dime. …and even in Libertopia, we’ll need somebody to oversee whoever it is that’s picking up stray dogs, deterring crime and fighting fires.

    Federal power and local responsiveness–is it a zero sum game?

  7. The comedic principles behind my headline, such as they are, is that it just might seem amusing for a second or two for the journalistic class of free-marketeers to suddenly pretend to alarmed by outsourcing now that it is hitting close to their own profession, what with the linked article being journalists explaining why outsourcing journalism was a bad idea.

  8. I thought the headline was funny. When someone else’s job is outsourced, it’s good economics. When it’s your job that’s outsourced, it’s a tragedy.

    Except it isn’t. Now some local reporter doesn’t have to sit in council chambers effectively taking minutes and turning them into a readable article. He gets to slough that tedium off to lower cost resources while concentrating on higher value reporting.

  9. Brain,

    He (if it is a he) thought outsourcing local journalism was a sensible plan if all it involved was summarizing City Council meetings or other information available on the Internet. He was skeptical about outsourced journalism substituting for on-the-pavement journalism on other matters.

  10. I am new to Reason (no jokes please.) I am not a libertarian, but I am somewhat surprised to find a libertarian magazine taking a stand against offshoring.

    Drink!

    Oh, and thank you, come again!

  11. I am to be wondering if anyone is to be reading this pasadenanow.com website. It is looking to be very very boring.

    Disclaimer: Verbs are conjugated differently in those there Indian languages. I am having fun with that beautiful conjugal difference. If you are offended, then I apologize that you are a sensitive ninny.

  12. So it seems that the key to job security is to NOT be in the technology field after all. I’ll stick with auto mechanics: It’s still too expensiv to ship your car to India for an oil change.

  13. True, wsdave, but it’s also good to get into high-end service fields (not that auto mechanics isn’t one, but isn’t changing oil done by folks who are trained on just that for like, 8 bucks an hour?) It’s also too expensive to outsource your legal needs (and um, impossible)…and you could say the same thing about outsourcing haircuts…which doesn’t pay well, AFAIK.

  14. randian u r wrong about those lawyers’ security. there are many indian legal firms that do research and prepare menial paperwork and such for us firms

  15. It’s still too expensiv to ship your car to India for an oil change.

    Your days are numbered, wsdave. Many new automatic transmissions already have synthetic lubricants that are not intended to be changed. Ever. The same thing is happening with engine lubricants.

  16. Ayn,

    You’re right, and the oil change comment was just an example. The trick is to specialize in a car that sells alot (in America that’s Chrysler, Ford, and GM ) and breaks down alot (in America that’s Chrysler, Ford, and GM ).

    Cheese,

    Actually, many OLD trannys are the same: Hondas have had this for about 10 years, Toyota nearly as long. But since manufactures make their money on parts (everyone does, really: The phone is free, but the monthly service costs; The printer is free but not the ink; etc.), there will always be parts that need fixing.
    Hell, it may end up just being brakes and suspension, but since not even rocket scientists are able to do their own, there will always be work.

  17. trannys… synthetic lubricants… that beautiful conjugal difference…

  18. The tragedy isn’t that local journalism isn’t getting outsourced, in my opinion. It’s that local journalism is so bad that someone in India could do a better job.

    Frankly, I think the Indian journalists will do a great job on what they can. They can certainly cover city council meetings (via the online footage) better than most of the characters that write the city beat these days, if they are reasonably smart and attentive.

    What they can’t do is the journalism that we need more of: more investigate work, more articles that push through the basic facts of a new development to determine where the redevelopment agency is abusing its power, more tallies of the unfunded liabilities of local cities that are just as disastrous as those on a state and national level.

    As one commenter on our site said, the more local coverage the better. I agree whole heartedly. More competition will hopefully pressure the crummy local papers into getting their act together and start doing the reporting that their Indian counterparts can’t.

  19. What they can’t do is the journalism that we need more of

    Then this outsourcing should be seen as a clear positive for local reporting. By outsourcing the drudge work, you free up the time of a local journalist — who otherwise would have had to do the drudge work — to do the more intensive and investigative work that you find so important.

  20. Right…so we’re pretty much agreed, as far as I can tell. Of course, given that the writing that’s worth reading (when it comes to local reporting) is the material that actually gets to the meat and meaning of the issues, I’m not sure why it should be something “that you find so important.”

    If it isn’t important, then what would be important in local news, in your estimation? Anything?

  21. If it isn’t important, then what would be important in local news, in your estimation? Anything?

    My apologies if you took my words as discounting the importance of particular spheres of journalism. I was simply deferring to your expertise in the matter — outsourcing that judgment, if you will — while making the point about the benefits of outsourcing.

  22. This is horrid.

    I’ve done this kinda work for years, and yeah, there’s a fair bit of stenography, a tiny bit of avoiding going after sacred cows (no India pun intended), and a lot of dull, dull shit, but it is important.

    From my experience, better than 75 percent of the worthwhile leads in local journalism comes from the little side conversations you have outside council meetings, on the outskirts of stupid little community festivals, and hanging around the tavern late at night with important local folks who ought to be in bed. “Hey, Scooter, d’ja ever wonder about…Hey, Scoter, what’re they doing over there on X street.”

    It’s not as weighty as all the bullshit that comes out of DC. But, it’s the one piece of the puzzle that Joe Citizen has some hope of impacting, and if you kick it all to Delhi, that’s gone.

  23. It’s a tragedy that people don’t understand sarcasm anymore.

  24. My apologies if you took my words as discounting the importance of particular spheres of journalism. I was simply deferring to your expertise in the matter — outsourcing that judgment, if you will — while making the point about the benefits of outsourcing.

    Well put, and my apologies if I seemed indignant (Okay, I was. My apologies for unnecessary indignance). It’s a tough position to be in: applauding outsourcing and still arguing there’s a place for local journos and, more than that, an essential place for them.

    Scooter puts it well:
    From my experience, better than 75 percent of the worthwhile leads in local journalism comes from the little side conversations you have outside council meetings, on the outskirts of stupid little community festivals, and hanging around the tavern late at night with important local folks who ought to be in bed. “Hey, Scooter, d’ja ever wonder about…Hey, Scoter, what’re they doing over there on X street.”

    It’s not as weighty as all the bullshit that comes out of DC. But, it’s the one piece of the puzzle that Joe Citizen has some hope of impacting, and if you kick it all to Delhi, that’s gone.

    Since actually becoming invested in all the tedium of local politics, the importance of it has become painfully clear to me. All the things we love to discuss in the abstract (property rights, governmental interference in contracts and commerce, the impact of campaign finance laws) become exceedingly concrete when you’re talking to a man whose life savings is being swept away by a redevelopment agency…and then you realize this is standard operating procedure and will happen at the next council meeting.

    I’d go so far as to say Scooter overplays how much “dull shit” there is. In every conversation about whether the city will intentially increase traffic to reduce driving (this is all the rage in city governments) or launch a new ten year plan to end homelessness (Pasadena has one of those), what’s really being discussed is the arbitrary overhaul of an entire community by a party that can only be held distantly accountable…and whose pocketbook will never suffer.

    City government: a repository of the world’s petty socialists (and I don’t say that just to be polemic). It’s amazing stuff…but admittedly difficult to impress upon other folks, since it is always so intimately connected to the community.

  25. Hey, city council meetings is my example proving that nobody wants hard news. What happens to my it’s-all-soap-opera point if somebody actually reads this stuff?

    Live local reporting is good to the extent that occasionally you get a reporter hit by a car while reporting on a gas odor at the local elementary school (always a breaking-news crisis), and you hate to miss that. Hatred for the media runs deep.

  26. This all comes down to a generally-acceptable principal: You get what you pay for. Pasadena Now has decided it wants book reports from India in lieu of journalism. I’m having a hard time understanding why high school kids couldn’t do that for minimum (or illegal mexicans!). And sources? We don’t need no stinkin’ sources, we’re journalists!

  27. I’m getting the feeling that a lot of you all are journalists or are related to a journalist. My experience with “journalists” is that they fail to communicate the important information and go just for what’s popular and sells newspapers. I live in New York, and if anyone could accurately cover what happens in NYS legislative meetings, there would be a mutiny. But instead we get repeated articles about how there’s a coalition of some sort of activists protesting a cut in their completely undeserved budget.
    I’m not a big fan of media bias as to what they cover and the angle and all that bullshit. I would be thrilled to read a transcript of legislative meetings.

  28. “I would be thrilled to read a transcript of legislative meetings.”

    Can’t you do that without a “journalist” intermediary?

  29. [noname],

    You batin’?

  30. Lamar, I think you miss the point of my comment. It was not an argument for the elimination of “journalists,” but a statement of dislike for what journalists focus on.

  31. High#:

    I am having fun with that beautiful conjugal difference.

    sounds like *you* were. woo hoo!

    *passes bag of cheetos

  32. Re: Reinmoose

    I would be thrilled to read a transcript of legislative meetings.

    A nice sentiment, to be sure, but it really would read tediously. Watching the footage is bad enough (and long enough). The problem is entirely the fault of the journalists. I know that in Pasadena, the mayor for the past few years made a conscious effort to “make city council meetings more boring” (He actually went on the record with the LA Times stating that). The aim was to make the council activitiy so routinely tedious that it no longer was the subject of public scrutiny, via the local cable or in local news reports. And it has certainly worked. And given how late these meetings stretch, beat reporters often have to leave early to make their publication deadline.

    So, it’s not fair to just beat up on the reporters and it’s definitely clear that a savvy Indian writer (coupled with a good editor in Pasadena) could come up with a good summary of events at a city council meeting.

    All that being said, I agree that local journalists are even worse than their state and national counterparts, as they routinely ignore issues that I want to hear about and in the name of a false objectivity, refuse to elaborate on any of the deeper issues at work, keeping their reporting only skin deep.

  33. RM: Got it. It seems like sending this overseas is not much different than having somebody summarize the transcript. Of course, who wants to read a summary of a city council transcript? If you give a damn enough to care, wouldn’t you (not you personally) read the whole thing, at least with respect to the issue you care about?

  34. In California these days, it sure helps to speak Spanish if you want to be a reporter.

    Do the lads in Bangalore speak Spanish?

  35. . . . hitting close to their own profession . . .

    As long as they don’t start outsourcing press secretaries and p.r. departments, I think the journalists of North America can rest easy.

  36. Hey, at least they can’t sue you in India…that’s what the city of Pomona is trying to do to us now. Check it:

    http://foothillcities.blogspot.com/2007/05/pomona-city-attorney-threatens-foothill.html

  37. Folks losing their jobs should take heart. Outsourcing to India is not all that it’s made out to be. In some cases, the Indian companies that are supposed to be doing American jobs, are making a thorough mess of it.

    Take Wipro, for example, an Indian outsourcing giant. Wipro is amongst several large companies in India that compete for IT service outsourcing. This means that they go in and “manage” an organization’s IT infrastructure, IT facilities and IT support because the organization doesn’t want to hire, train and maintain IT staff and hardware/software themselves.

    It’s a tempting business model for companies that deal with quantity and not quality. I’ve experienced the quality of customer service of 3 of the top 4 companies – Wipro, HCL and Infosys.

    Wipro is by far the worst. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is, say, the customer service of Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Wipro would be a minus 10.

    IT services outsourcing has several facets – customer service, staff courtesy, staff knowledge, expertise with the language, staff problem-solving skills and management’s buy-in or support for all these facets.

    Wipro fails miserably at all of them.

    I have not met or spoken to a single Wipro IT services employee who did give a damn or who was courteous or who was knowledgeable or who was professional. Not one.

    This should not surprise people who are familiar with the Indian business landscape; it’s cut-throat competition amongst the top companies who constantly strive to undercut each other’s prices and consequently constantly sacrifice the quality of personnel. In this landscape, Wipro is notorious for its ridiculously cheap rates ($6-8 per hour for overseas IT projects!!) and equally lousy personnel. They are legendary for hiring below average people, giving them none to below average training, bidding on IT services projects at embarrassingly low rates (and obviously winning them) and populating these projects with dozens of below-par, ignorant employees.

    I’ve had first had experience of their shoddy customer service. Wipro IT department employees calling themselves “customer service executives” treat customers like dirt or worse and have no idea of the problems they create by messing with IT systems. They end up shrugging their collective shoulders saying “we don’t know what’s wrong” and “no, we don’t know why that’s not working”.

    So you see, with service like this, the jobs are bound to come back.

  38. Pretty interesting. We know that outsourcing in India is such a popular one. We can’t deny that there will be some bad things going on.

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