As U.S. newspapers scramble to cut costs in the face of falling advertising, a handful have announced plans to outsource copyediting and page layout to editorial services firms in India.
This has sparked a tremendous debate within the newspaper business. While one side argues that there’s no way something as connected to local language, geography, history and cultural knowledge can be handled from half a world away, the other side maintains that companies have successfully outsourced all types of business operations to India, there’s no reason newspapers can’t do the same by using highly competent Indian business partners, and people who think otherwise are being xenophobic.
In his weekly column on Poynter Online, noted Poynter writing coach Roy Peter Clark puts himself squarely in the anti-outsourcing camp. In the column, From Rim Editor to Ram the Editor, St. Petersburg, Florida, based Clark claims that while Indian editors may be very good at what they do, copy editors need to be part of the local fabric of the community to do their jobs well. He writes:
I need copy editors to know that Eva Longoria is not the wife of Tampa Bay Rays baseball phenom Evan Longoria. I need them to know that a Florida cracker is not something you eat, and that it may or may not be offensive to some readers. I need a Rhode Island copy editor to know that you don’t dig for clams; you dig for quahogs, a word of Indian origin — American Indian. I need copy editors who know that Jim Morrison of The Doors went to St. Pete Junior College, that beat writer Jack Kerouac died in St. Petersburg, Fla., but is buried in Lowell, Mass. I want them to know that Lakewood High School is different from Lakewood Ranch High School. I want them to know that 54th Avenue North in St. Petersburg is 108 blocks north of 54th Avenue South.
Clark’s column is based in part on a recent interview he did on a radio show called The Takeaway on WNYC in New York City with hosts John Hockenberry and Adaora Udoji. Listen to the entire broadcast here.