Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Singleton - Outsource! Outsource it all, I say!

Dean Singleton, chairman of the AP's board and expert at bleeding newspapers dry, speaks:

MediaNews Group Inc. CEO Dean Singleton, who also serves as chairman of the board of The Associated Press, told the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association that his company was exploring outsourcing in nearly every aspect of their operations.

"In today's world, whether your desk is down the hall or around the world, from a computer standpoint, it doesn't matter," Singleton said after his speech.

MediaNews publishes The Denver Post, The Detroit News and 52 other daily newspapers and is well known for cost-cutting efforts, including combining many operations of its papers near San Francisco.

Singleton said sending copyediting and design jobs overseas may even be called for.

"One thing we're exploring is having one news desk for all of our newspapers in MediaNews ... maybe even offshore," he said during the speech.

(He promises that local editors will still retain control. Would these be the same local editors who already say they are shorthanded and overworked and struggling to keep up?)

More bon mots:
Despite this year's dismal drumbeat of layoffs and revenue drops, Singleton said newspapers still have incredible reach in the country, calling them cornerstones of democracy. But he said they must change in order to survive.

"Fond memories of dead newspapers will do nothing for our communities," he said.
That may be true, Dean, but since many of your papers are dead men walking anyhow, pray tell, what is the difference?

The American Copy Editors Society weighs in with the expected argument about quality, local connections and how some things just can 't be measured in money. And I'm happy it has, but let us know how that line of reasoning works out in this business climate, OK? (As I've written before, such arguments are nice but useless. If you want to make the case that quality = money, you have to do it with the libel insurers, who will have to pay for any screwups. They are the ones who will force companies to internalize such social costs.)

The article also quotes James Macpherson, he of the Pasadenanow.com fame, who has overseas stringers covering his city meetings using webcasts:

"We used to have on-the-ground reporters, but the expense was prohibitive," said James Macpherson, editor and publisher of the site. "Regretfully, we had to lay them all off."

Macpherson said he saw no reason a larger publication couldn't adopt similar techniques to save costs.

"You might miss the nuance of a sneer on a councilman's face but you know how he voted and what he said," he said. "That's factual and can be reported on from anywhere."

Which then raises the question: Since government already has Web sites and webcasts and RSS feeds, why do we need sites like Pasadenanow anyway? Oh yes, we've got to have some space where the pictures don't have any minorities in them.

In all fairness -- one of the rotating main news stories does have Carol Burnett with the artistic director of Pasadena Playhouse, who is black. And there is one of violinist Hagai Shaham with a group of Asian children from the Children's Orchestra. But I've watched the site and finding minorities on it is not particularly common. (Of course, the same might be said for many of Singleton's, and other, newspapers - but I'd suggest that even with their warts they are far more reflective of their communities.)

But not to worry that newspapers are alone. Macpherson's site carries this story about Pasadena's police department automating the filing of police reports for "routine" crimes like theft, vandalism and vehicle burglary. For now, it's a choice -- if you want to file the report online, go ahead. But one wonders how long it will be only an option as cash-strapped cities look at ways to cut costs.


David Sullivan has a good summary of what copy editors do and their value.

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At 10/21/08, 11:27 AM, Anonymous Jeremy said...

As a survivor of two Dean Singleton papers, this dismays me just from a jobs standpoint.

My other thought is that we keep hearing that local, local, local will save newspapers. How will locals react (especially in small towns) when they discover that key duties of their local newspaper are outsourced to other countries? Seems to remove the community flavor from the community newspaper.

For that reason alone this feels like another one of Singleton's gambits to stop the bleeding while also being terrible short-sighted.


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