The Outsourcing of Hyperlocal Journalism Is Inevitable

In mid-2007 it seemed as if even the heavens had opened to hurl invective at me for my simple idea to cut costs of publishing my hyperlocal community website in Pasadena, California.

My idea — to outsource the newswriting — was derided across media as “nutty” and “dangerous,” and in between interviews with almost every major news outlet in the world there came threatening phone calls and invitations to take up permanent residence abroad.

I was unrelentingly reviled by journalists. When introduced at a Columbia University-sponsored symposium on outsourcing I wasn’t just booed – audience members actually hissed. Maureen Dowd’s New York Times column about me drew so many comments, so fast, that commenting was quickly disabled.

Back then, hand-wringers accused me of opening a Pandora’s box of ideas which would one day curse journalism. I didn’t see it that way. Turns out all of us were right.

I was right because — properly managed — outsourcing some newsroom functions can be incredibly cost-effective and can contribute to the quality of a publication’s editorial content. My critics were right because — badly executed — outsourcing can become a plague that infects a publication’s journalistic integrity.

My conviction in the power of collaborative “glocal” journalism has not been swayed by the Journatic debacle.

I am convinced that using outsourcing in combination with certain newsroom changes can lead to an incredibly positive transformation in hyperlocal newsrooms — resulting in better editorial content, faster turnaround and increased profitability.

(One absolutely essential concept is that the editorial process must be locally controlled. It is simply inconceivable to me that any publisher or editor could possibly believe that writers in foreign countries understand the dynamics of communities thousands of miles distant.)

The Journatic dustup has motivated me to present my version of how outsourcing should be deployed and integrated into hyperlocal newspapers and websites. The system, which I call the Journtent System, is the result of six years’ experience of almost daily outsourcing.

Experimentation with outsourcing will not stop because of Journatic’s setbacks — if anything, it may accelerate. It’s probably coming (in one form or another) to a newsroom near you.

James Macpherson has published the hyperlocal site “Pasadena Now” since 2004.