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'Offshoring' Reaches the Newsroom

One of the most controversial business practices is "offshoring," the shifting of manufacturing and service jobs to foreign nations to save money.

An American company moves its assembly line to Mexico, where labor is cheap and non-union. The agent who takes telephoned reservations on U.S. airlines is sitting at a call center in Pakistan. A tech-support agent in Vietnam helps a woman in Nebraska through a computer crisis.

But for a new level of international outsourcing, meet James Macpherson. He runs a news website in Pasadena, California, called "Pasadena Now," and he's hired two reporters to cover the local city council. Both live and will remain in India, 14,000 kilometers away!

The idea is that the writers can easily watch the proceedings on the city council's web site, write their stories while the editor is fast asleep, and have the articles on his desk in the morning. "A lot of the routine stuff we do can be done by really talented people in another time zone at much lower wages," says the editor. He knows from experience, since he once ran a store that sold clothing made in Vietnam and India.

Journalistic purists are astounded. One professor said it's implicit in the word "coverage" that the reporter was on the scene. The editor replied that his web site doesn't make enough money to pay a reporting staff. He says he plans to hire six more India-based correspondents.

If reporters half a world away can cover local news in Pasadena, why can't announcers in Tajikistan call a baseball game in Boston, just by watching the live feed on the Internet? Or write these "Only in America" essays while sitting in Bangladesh, simply by reading U.S. newspapers and watching travel shows?

Now wait just a minute here!