Monday, November 13, 2006

Offshoring: Coming Trend for Copy Desks?

A newsroom, bedeviled by missed deadlines, a short-handed copy desk and a lack of editing candidates, gets creative.

It finds a company that offers editing services. The company is overseas, perhaps in India or Singapore.
Powered by fiber-optic connections that carry data all the way around the world in less than a second, the off-shore company offers a money-back guarantee on deadline performance. In a pinch, it could throw 30 editors at an edition, three times as many as the newspaper could ever afford to deploy in its own office.

The quality is good. Hundreds of thousands of people in India grow up in English-speaking schools, and they're working hard to build careers. The work is cheap by U.S. standards. The rate is a third less than what the American newspaper is paying. There are no health benefits, vacations or sick days, and no utility or equipment costs to the newspaper.

Could it happen? In some respects (though not yet the copy desk), it already has.

The Chicago Tribune is moving the work of 40 circulation customer-contact workers to APAC Customer Service in the Philippines. The newspaper reported that this follows a similar action by its sister, the Los Angeles Times.

The New York Times reported that, in its last months, Knight Ridder considered whether it could consolidate copy editing among widespread papers. It's not that big a leap to move that desk overseas.

Stateside copy editors, traditionally on the right side of supply-and-demand job security, are on the wrong side of offshoring. Some of the safest jobs in the newsroom are becoming the most exportable.

One company, Hi-Tech Export, offers 40 hours of proofreading and copy editing for $295. The company, located in Ahmedabad, India, started in 1992 and did data processing for other Indian companies. It has expanded its offerings and, since 2000, has been developing markets in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia. Its U.S. office is in Omaha.

Another company, Cicada Media in Bangalore, India, focuses on corporate and marketing communications. It offers to correct errors in grammar, spelling, usage and style, and to proofread. Sound familiar?

At The DallasMorning News recently, as people awaited word on buyouts, they griped that their in-house tech questions often were handled by techies in India.

As a recruiter, I frequently get e-mails from people in India offering to work for the Detroit Free Press. Immigration would not be an issue, as they don't plan to move. They are offering, in effect, to be trans-world telecommuters. Their pitches, naive and off-the-mark at first, are getting sharper.

Going in the other direction, U.S. companies are advertising for copy editors now on Monster India, the overseas cousin of the job site we know here.

Hi-Tech is not the problem. Nor is Cicada nor Monster nor any company in particular. The problem is that globalization, digitization and tight supply-chain management let all kinds of companies break down jobs, divvy up the parts, ship the components around the world to the best bidders and reassemble them all by deadline. The Newspaper Guild and others have fought offshoring, but protesting won't dent the incentives.

The challenge of segmentation is also the key to survival.How can copy editors -- or any workers -- protect their jobs?

The challenge of segmentation is also the key to survival. Break down the job, analyze the components and take the parts you can do best. New York Times writer Thomas L. Friedman, who laid out scenarios like this in "The World is Flat," differentiates between high-value custom work and "plain vanilla" exportable tasks. The vanilla gets gobbled up first.

The parts of a copy editor's job that would seem most vulnerable to offshoring are also the most mundane: reading proofs and editing calendar listings. How could someone overseas have enough local knowledge to edit calendar listings? The same way someone might adopt an American name and learn a regional U.S. accent to provide more comforting service from a call center 12 time zones away. It can be done.

How about wire stories? How much better are we in my newsroom in Detroit at editing stories from Asia than, say, a person in India? We know our market better, but we are further from the story. Wire stories, which receive a couple of edits before they ever get to us, could be vulnerable to offshoring. Recently, I have seen one newsroom run a shared-content, international-news page that is put together by a nearby neighbor. It works pretty well. And it is not a huge leap to have that page put together 10,000 miles away.

In 1998, an American Journalism Review project on the state of American journalism titled a piece on dwindling foreign reporting as "Goodbye, World." What's next, "Goodbye, Work"?

Anyone with a good job would fight to keep it. Fighting change may be futile. The smarter fight lies in developing the skills required to make yourself not only more essential but more satisfied and competent in the work you want to do.
source :

No comments: