Friday, June 27, 2008

Outsourcing content to the subcontinent

Cut my copy with care, sir.

As newspapers across the U.S. slash budgets and lay off staff, reports the Columbia Journalism Review, more and more are outsourcing jobs in their advertising and circulation departments. Companies like Express KCS in Gurgaon, a suburb of New Delhi, are booming...largely because they can save the typical U.S. newspaper 30 to 50 percent a year. Less than two years ago, Express KCS had no more than twenty employees. By late January, that figure was closer to two hundred, most of them single men in their twenties pulling in between $400 and $1,000 a month—a salary that, in urban India, is healthy though not opulent. By year’s end, Express KCS will likely employ between five hundred and six hundred workers in Gurgaon.

Much of that growth will come from a new, and disturbing, dimension of Express KCS’s services—outsourced editorial services. Express KCS doesn’t propose to report or write stories, but it does offer copy editing (or “subbing,” as it’s known in India), page layout, and the writing of headlines and captions. By year’s end, Husain hopes that 10 to 15 percent of Express KCS’s business will come from outsourced editorial work. He said the company is discussing such work with more than one mainstream U.S. daily, though he wouldn’t name them.

If it happens, it won’t be without an uproar in the journalism world. (Already the Orange County Register has signed up for a month-long trial with one of their rival, Mindworks. Last year, the local news Web site Pasadena Now, in California, was roundly mocked when it announced a plan to have Indian reporters cover local government meetings via webcast.
Still, Express KCS is confident that it can properly train its employees and enter the editorial market. It has already signed up one client—London Property News, a suburban real-estate magazine delivered free with several regional newspapers in upscale British neighborhoods. But whether it’s advertising or editorial, Express KCS is clear about its ambitions: “We’ve got this list of the top one hundred [U.S. newspapers],” says CEO Robert Berkeley, “and we tick them off as we go.”

This is ticking me off as a professional journalist!! Or, as the Indians would say,
as a scribe.

Comment from WordWallah

One concern which seems to have escaped the bean counters who would outsource copy-editing (subbing) is that Indian English is very distinct, rooted in Colonial-era English and Hindustani, yielding a distinctive "Hinglish." Ever pick up an Indian newspaper or magazine? There are lots of peculiarly Indian idioms, such as these: "airdash, eve-tease, damp squib, condole, prepone..." likely to baffle the Yanks. (Some have enough trouble figuring out the call center guys' explanations.) Much of the spelling comes from Britain.

Kindly note that it is paining me to tell you this idea might go for a toss. A Himalayan blunder, yaar.

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