Outsourcing: How to kill a newspaper

Look around you.

If the Company got its way and could outsource any job, what could go?

Circulation calls. Classified ad sales. Page design. Editing. Advertising and editorial art. Payroll and accounting.

The oh-so-slow new computer system in editorial is based in Houston. Someone there, who has never been to Albany, could edit copy and lay it out on a page as easily (but not as accurately) as we do. E-mails to the calendar desk could be read there, the calendars compiled, edited and sent to a page designer and laid out without anyone in Albany ever looking at it. (Sure, there might be more mistakes, but there are already more getting in because fewer people are proofreading the paper under the new system.)

Sound impossible? It’s not. It’s already happening in our industry. One person even started a “news” Web site in Pasadena, California that hired “reporters” in India to watch the television feed of City Council meetings and write stories about them. (They missed it when a group of black lawmakers walked out in protest because it was off camera.)

It’s not hard to see what gets lost. Quality. Accuracy. (How do you ask how a speaker spells his or her name when you’re not even in the same part of the country or world?)

But many newspapers are going this route as if it’s their salvation. It’s not. It’s their doom. If the Times Union leadership thinks this is the path to follow, it will be the beginning of the end. Whatever you’ll call it in the future, it’s not journalism. It’s not customer service. It’s not news.

But look around you. The question is not what would go. It’s what would stay.

4 thoughts on “Outsourcing: How to kill a newspaper

  1. Absolutely right, Tim. Outsourcing is one of the most foolish ways in which a newspaper can try to save money.

    Outsourcing is a major issue that solidifies union members throughout an entire community. Attacks on our contractual protections against outsourcing are an issue easily understood by the many members of our community (and readers of our paper) who face similar threats. It would be easy to mobilize the extensive Capital Region labor community on this issue.

    The newspaper has already declined in quality due to the cutbacks in editing. Outsourcing Guiild work would inevitably lead to a further decrease in quality, and it would be difficult to sell a product that continued to diminish itself.

  2. How can the publisher justify continuing to charge a premium price for advertising when the product is not worth the premium due to quality problems due to outsourcing? The answer is failure.
    Some years ago General Motors tried to pass off Chevrolet engines and transmissions to Oldsmobile buyers. The result? A consumer uproar. Oldsmobile buyers thought they were buying Oldsmobile engines and transmissions, but they got what was considered a cheaper product for a premium price. The result? Once-loyal Oldsmobile buyers fled.
    Today, the Oldsmobile brand is dead and the once-mighty GM says it is going bankrupt. The GM workers had NO ROLE in the corporate decision to swap the engines, but they are paying the price.
    The same is true if the Times Union outsources jobs. Consumers and advertising buyers aren’t stupid. The public wants a quality local product, be in in print or on the Web. Albany Guild workers are the engine that keeps the TU going.
    Any publisher who tries to produce a publication without a local connection to consumers has been doomed to failure.
    We don’t want that to happen here.
    Thanks Guild bargaining team.
    John Runfola

  3. This is a frightening idea. I can’t really conceive of what such a publication would be with such thin connections to its own community.
    A bland, homogenized content delivery system? Sounds kind of like a franchise to me. Certainly not much to inspire a journalist.
    Reporters need to know their editors and their editors need to know their reporters. Good grief, if someone thinks this the way to preserve newspapers, we must do our best to explain how much the intangible chemistry of working together contributes to the local character and quality of a newspaper, large or small.
    One more thought for now: if the Times Union is going to depend on this new editorial computer system to make this idea work — well, I guess that might be enough to do it in, anyhow.

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