26 June 2008

If Indian newspapers can use copy from AP, why can't US newspapers get editing work done in India?

News is out that Orange County Register, a California newspaper, will have some copy editing done in New Delhi by Mindworks Global Media, an editorial services company founded -- incidentally -- by some of my friends and old colleagues. As someone who played a role in Reuters when it began doing global editorial work out of Bangalore in India with the aim of sharing some of the work thus far done in the US and the UK, I have been witness to the term "outsourcing" creeping in to journalism.
But I don't like to call it editorial outsourcing. At Reuters, the official line was clear: This is "product development" because work related to content is a core function, whereas "outsourcing" is a term best applied to "non-core" work done by a company.
Does that sound uncomfortable/inconvenient/confusing? Please read on.
Not happy with having screwed up spellings and grammar in the English language, the US political culture is adding fuel to the fire by usurping the term outsourcing to describe any work done somewhere outside the West.
I mean, does India "outsource" the manufacture of Boeing jets to the US? Does India "outsource" the manufacture of a search engine to Google? (Never mind that large parts of the search technologies are now developed in Bangalore -- and Google News was developed by an Indian, Krishna Bharat, who used to be based in Bangalore and played a key role in Google's R&D work there, as you can see here)
In the age of globalisation, it is considered good business to do work or source products and services from where it is most optimal. I use the word "optimal" consciously, because price, quality, detail vary from customer to customer and it is for the customer to decide the issue of "value" that takes into account all factors.
Outsourcing is/was used by management theorists to describe farming out of work by a company to another when the nature of the work was "non-core" -- for instance, a bank may hire a security agenty to supply guards, when it believes that its core function is lending and borrowing money in the form of loans or deposits.
Somewhere along the way, shifting of work to India or China began to be called "outsourcing" whereas the correct reference should at best be "offshoring." Ideally, it should be simply called what it is: globalisation of services, aided by new technologies like high-bandwidth telecoms and computer networking.
Now, there is a more subtle, sophisticated opposition like this one to shifting some editorial work to India, on the grounds that it kind of takes a sacred work outside its home base.
But surely publishers know better? And surely global competition is part of the business for the whole of the editorial value chain?
When an Indian newspaper editor can use an Associated Press copy on Chilean politics meant essentially for readers in the US Midwest, is that not a kind of a less-than-sacred warp?
Cultural presuppositions are a part of journalism and publishing. As a schoolboy, I grew up reading Enid Blyton and all sorts of stuff about British culture and later, I devoured the works of US writers. There were those in India who called all that "cultural imperialism". And now we have 21st Century Luddites who oppose globalisation of editorial work.
Young recruits at AOL's Bangalore office learn about Hollywood movies to serve American customers better. It is called training for business -- and usually involves cultural compromises, both for service providers and those who source them.
So I leave you with a simple question: If Indian newspapers can use AP copy, why can't American newspapers get some editing work done in India?


Sairee said...

Loved reading the post - tempers down the rather emotional issue with logic and rationale :-)
So very you and so very good!


Nirmal Kumar Sharma said...

Rightly said and rightly put, Madhavan. Perfect!!!

roshun said...

That's a neat perspective of the issue. It's not easy to adapt to the ways of a globalised economy.