The Miami Herald-India Outsourcing Post

I've been hearing grumbling, on this blog and off, about the Miami Herald's outsourcing to India. The story, broken by the Associated Press, came out during the holidays, an off-time this year at the Pulp. Hence the silence.

No more. My take on this isn't suprising, and it's not positive, but it is tempered with an understanding that McClatchy right now is desperate. I think it's rotten for the newspaper hire people in India rather than, say, Indian Creek. And I wonder if Anders Gyllenhaal has any sense of irony: Most of the outsourcing is being done with its Neighbors section -- the "community" section where the Herald really pretends to care about the people and places it covers.

Good thing, as far as the news side goes, the Herald is only outsourcing copy editor jobs. I mean, all they do is check grammar so that can't be so ... okay, news deskers, simmer down that blood already, I'm just kidding. Copy editors, of course, bring a richness to any newspaper that can't be replaced. The best ones consistently bring new ideas to coverage and find errors that some guy sitting in some warehouse in India can't do.

But don't kid yourself. McClatchy, the Herald's parent company, is experimenting here with the idea that maybe copy editors are dispensable. Run the copy through a New Delhi cubicle farm and save millions. It's a horrible idea and, if done on a large scale, will diminish not only the product, but South Florida (and America for that matter).

I don't think they'll do it, but it's not hard to understand why they're playing with the idea. A couple months ago, the Pulp featured the stock charts of McClatchy, Tribune (which has since been sold to Sam Zell), and New York Times. All three companies have plummeted in value during the past few years, McClatchy most of all. Since I posted those charts on November 29, the company has fallen another 15 percent or so (it closed at $11.37 Friday). The entire company is worth $934 million right now according to Wall Street, which is less than what it paid for the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 1998. (For more interesting info on the free-fall, check out this Dec. 18 article in Forbes).

It's damn depressing -- and it makes it kind of hard to blame the boys and girls at headquarters for coming up with outlandish ideas to save money. But outsourcing idea is particularly boneheaded, since it has led to bad P.R. that further diminishes the newspaper's value.

You know, in that stock chart post, I opined that Sam Zell was going to lose his ass on the Tribune deal. I don't feel that way anymore. I think the newspaper business is going to come back, though it may take another year in this dicey economy. There's more value than what the unforgiving Street is giving. So McClatchy needs to practice the patience that its CEO, Gary Pruitt, has been preaching. It may never hit the heights that it hit earlier this decade, but it should go up sooner or later, so long as the company doesn't outsource its journalistic value before the time comes.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman