New Haven, Connecticut: Alert readers of The New Haven Advocate and its sister publications in Hartford and Fairfield County in the US may have noticed a consistency among the bylines in its newest issue: Annie Rani, Dev Das, Nidhi Sharma, Asmi Rana, Neha Bhayana, Shreya Sanghani, Vijeta Bhatia and others. Or, alert or inert, they could just have figured things out from the cover: “Sorry, we’ve been outsourced—this issue was made in India.” Almost all the stories in the alternative weekly, it turned out, were written by journalists in India.
Outsourcing journalism, one could ask, menace or peril? It might not be the only question, but New Haven is a particularly good place to pose it.
The Advocate, an alternative weekly mix of listings, personal ads, entertainment news and local reporting, wasn’t the first publication to wonder whether you could do local journalism without local journalists.
The question arose last year when an online publication in Pasadena, California, fired its seven staff members and replaced them with workers from India using Webcams and e-mail at $7.50 per 1,000 words.
“The idea was for the newsprint version of performance art, and I mean that positively,” said Joshua Mamis, publisher of the three papers.
And you know what? Most of it was pretty good. What does this prove? Not that it makes sense to report and write a New Haven publication from Mumbai. Even the writers said that. Maybe it showed something else: breaking the mould did work, that you could reinvent the wheel and come up with something pretty fresh.
This, in fact, is exactly what’s happened in New Haven, where the most interesting journalism isn’t the “alternative” press, owned by the not-so-alternative Tribune Co. of Chicago or The New Haven Register daily.
Instead, it’s the independent nonprofit New Haven Independent, a five-day-a-week online newspaper begun in 2005 by Paul Bass. Bass, 48, a journalist in New Haven since 1978 said he liked the outsourced issue, but it reminded him, alas, that so much of American journalism these days actually can be done from a desk in Mumbai, and that the threat facing most American newspapers isn’t necessarily outsourcing or even the new frontier of the Internet. It’s dull, stodgy products that have been downsized and bled dry by corporate owners. If what you do can be done, however imperfectly, from Mumbai, then maybe you need to go back to Square One.
“I wasn’t worried about India, I was worried about Chicago,” he said. “Chicago was the killer. India was fine.”
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES