Despite its higher calling, journalism, or the process of gathering, processing and disseminating information for print, radio, television and the web, is a business. The majority of news organizations exist to profit, and like any other business, the goal is to increase revenue while minimizing costs.
In an age when media channels have proliferated, barriers to entry are low, advertising prices have dropped; and when readers can easily switch from one news source to another, businesses in the industry must do things differently to survive. Outsourcing journalism is one strategy that businesses can leverage to stay relevant and profitable.
A few U.S.-based news organizations have already blazed the trail for outsourced journalism; some successfully and others (like the Chicago Tribune and Houston Chronicle that outsourced hyper-local news to Journatic) with disastrous results. Transitioning from the old to the new way of doing things is always challenging, but outsourced journalism is workable and practical for many companies.
Offshoring Environment and Success Stories
What to Outsource
Benefits of Journalism Outsourcing for Businesses
A new 24/7 online journalism has replaced a significant portion of the declining print media industry. Most news outlets and journalism firms already have an online presence, and some companies are increasingly offshoring journalism work not only to gain significant cost savings, but also to speed up publishing turnaround time, boost productivity, and improve process efficiency.
Another advantage of having offices in different time zones is round-the-clock work and collaboration. In a normal newsroom, reporting is followed by editing, layout and design, with significant time gaps between each task. With multiple newsrooms around the world, journalists can move on from one story to another without having to sit idle waiting to make changes (Offshoring and Journalism: Applying the 24-Hour Knowledge Factory to Journalism, University of Arizona 2011).
Like any other outsourcing segment, however, there are challenges to the growth of outsourced journalism, such as legal, trust and logistical issues, as well as changing technological requirements. Piracy or illegal copying of media is particularly widespread on the web and news organizations are pressed to seek new methods to protect digital content rights (Media Industry Facing Biggest Upheaval Since Gutenberg, Deutsche Bank Research 2006).
International news company Thomson Reuters began outsourcing journalism work offshore in 2004. Reuters initially employed 340 journalists to write about financial issues, but this has since grown to about 7,000 staff members that cover tax, accounting, healthcare, media, and legal subjects.
Other firms that have successfully offshored work offshore include California’s MediaNews Group, The Columbus Dispatch (90 advertising jobs) and local news website Pasadena Now. In the case of Pasadena Now, offshore writers used live web streams of mostly city council meetings to complete reporting. MediaNews Group CEO Dean Singleton said in 2008 that offshoring production jobs offshore decreased costs by 65 percent.
Local news site founder and journalism outsourcing advocate James Macpherson has a simple suggestion about what to outsource and what to retain: outsource whatever can be outsourced, and keep expertise in house. This way, local reporters, writers and editors can do what they do best: capture the action. Journalism work that can be outsourced includes:
Hyper-local services. Hyper-local journalism is the coverage of events and topics on an extremely local scale, such as a news website that covers a specific small area, like a block in a neighborhood. The focus is news and interesting stories that mainstream news organizations with a larger scope usually do not cover. Hyper-local news is often found online, and the task of watching and transcribing live streams and writing stories can easily be outsourced.
Copy editing. Many types of newsroom tasks do not involve leaving the office at all. Copy editing, rewriting wire copy, writing obituaries, and routine aspects of sports and city editing are some examples of work that can be outsourced locally to specialty providers or offshore journalists.
Rewrite editing. Some reporters are not great writers, but they are expected to write the story that they have covered. To maintain high-quality reportage, companies can outsource the task to rewrite editors and bloggers locally or overseas.
Content services. These services include everything from page layout for print distribution to content development for websites.
Visual services. Layout and artwork for ads and stories is another area that can be easily outsourced.
Journalism outsourcing is meant to enhance existing business processes, not totally replace them. When a news organization farms out routine or non-core tasks to experienced third parties either locally or offshore where costs are low and staff can be hired en masse; it leads to cost savings, increased profitability, and better quality services.
Save money. Businesses outsource mainly to reduce costs, and that’s also the case with journalism outsourcing. Outsourcing to emerging markets like the Philippines and India mean that the company doesn’t have to recruit, train and support full-time transcribers, writers or editors. The business also doesn’t have to invest in office space or office equipment.
Improve services. When companies partner with an experienced third party, the service provider can help streamline workflows and make existing processes more efficient. The key is to outsource journalism tasks to a company that values high-quality content and stringent fact-checking.
Focus on what the company does best. With routine and repetitive tasks out of the way, the local staff can focus on getting information and being in the middle of the action. And because they are doing the things they love; it can also lead to increased productivity.