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Eyewitness, Outsourced

Perhaps the most surprising, fantastical piece I have read recently about the future of the news business involves Pasadena Now, a daily online journal “covering” Pasadena, California. James Macpherson, its editor and publisher, recently fired his entire staff of 7 employees (each earning between $600 and $800 weekly) and replaced them with part-time freelance reporters in India working from some 8,000 miles away. He pays them the paltry sum of $7.50 per thousand words.

One of his six new freelancers, G. Sreejayanthi, a 40-year-old living in southern India, has another fulltime job but puts together the Pasadena events listing. She thought that the Rose Bowl, America’s premier college football event, was “related to some food event but then found it was related to Sports field.” As she put it to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, “I try to do my best, which need not necessarily be correct always.”

Publisher Macpherson is convinced that this is, to a large extent, the future of journalism in the United States: “Many newspapers are dead men walking.” I myself wonder about the day when someone in Bangalore will be performing surgery on me through a video monitor and a robot arm (that may be all my health plan will pay for). I most probably have already discussed quite a few intimate details of my financial status here in New York, including late payments on credit cards, with colleagues of these distant reporters.

Somehow this fantastical notion of journalism as occurring from 13.5 time zones ahead seems perfectly attuned to our virtual times, as if we were all recounting recent history according to a parade of photo opportunities (“Mission Accomplished”) or starring in a short story by Borges. The first Persian Gulf War, where journalists were kept away from the battle and confined to reporting from in front of television sets while audiences were regaled by “experts” explaining simulated models and extolling “smart” bombs, might as well have been assigned to an outsourced theater critic. And the non-existent “weapons of mass destruction,” over which we went to war five years ago, might have been better understood as a figure of speech if journalists had been as honest as Ms. Sreejayanthi about their lack of comprehension. (“I did not know what they were talking about when they kept on referring to these ‘weapons of mass destruction’ so I left it out.”) Second Life has nothing on us.

So much for eyewitnesses. Somehow all I can think of is this fragment by William Carlos Williams: “It is difficult to get the news from poems, but every day, men die for lack of what is found there…” Maybe we are, finally, getting the news from poems. Whether fewer of us will now die remains to be determined (but by whom, or where, I have no idea).

2 Comments

  1. kurort wrote:

    Love the advice. Thank you.

    Tuesday, February 3, 2009 at 9:23 pm | Permalink
  2. Tessa wrote:

    Fantastic post!!! Cheers!

    Saturday, February 7, 2009 at 6:50 am | Permalink

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  1. Outsourcing Journalism « Journalism 3601 : A class blog on Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 9:34 am

    [...] a comment » Check out Fred Ritchin’s blog post from today here for his account on the possible future of [...]

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