According to a report on NPR this morning, some newspapers, including our local Minneapolis Star Tribune, have been outsourcing advertising design and copy writing to India and may also begin outsourcing news writing. New giant McClatchy will be cutting 10% of its workforce and some of it will be sent to India.
The Strib is amongst those newspapers that use Express KCS for outsourcing. According to KCS CEO Robert Berkeley, the employees in India admittedly have no journalism background and have likely never set foot in the town where the newspaper they are writing for is located. On NPR, Berkeley insisted that "It's about the training." They spend "four to six months training our staff in the local and cultural norms." Berkely said that the training covers such topics as what a leprechaun is and what colors are used on Valentine's Day.
I'm a little conflicted about this news. Like outsourcing in general, it seems a little insidious. First we'll outsource our ad copy and then our news and then our editorials and then our wedding vows.
According to a friend of mine who used to write ad copy, on the spectrum of writing (with Philip Roth, Joan Didion, and Joseph Mitchell on the good, virginal end), writing ad copy is on the brothel end of the spectrum. So part of me is thinking "who cares" about who writes ad copy and whether they eat chapitis at every meal?
But at the same time, I love local culture. I love community. I love all of the little quirks about a certain specific town or city or neighborhood that make it unique. Sure, they can teach writers in other countries that a leprechaun has to take you to his pot of gold when you nab them, but will they know that a sure sign that a Metro rider in Washington DC is a tourist is that they're standing on the left side of the escalator? Will they know that "Scanner Dan" Madison, WI got his scanner from a kind fireman who knew about Dan's obsession with tracking local fires? Will they know that Matt's, not the 5-8 Club has the original Jucy Lucy (and that that's the correct spelling?) Or that... well, to tell you the truth, I don't know that much about Minneapolis yet. I've only lived here for a year and a half.
But that's sort of the point... it takes living and being a part of a community for years to know it.
You know those "Mentoes" commercials where the guy or gal has some little problem, so they eat a Mento and then "ting!" a lightbulb goes off and he/she finds some clever way to solve his/her problem? Even though there's no speaking, those commercials are obviously European and all Americans know it. Watching them, it's like, "Oh, look at those silly Europeans popping their collars and trying to sling their minty treats over here in the US. They're so.... so... clearly not American." And then do you go out and buy Mentoes? No. No you don't because it's like if someone parks their car too close to mine, I might try to get a bunch of construction workers over to pick up and move my car, but I'm also to kick that guy's headlights in.
I like local. I like that local writers can maintain and enrich a local culture even if it is just as a means to sell me something. Because if local community is about anything, it's about slinging schlonk* to other locals.
*This word is courtesy of my sister's mother-in-law, who is the an amazing wordcrafter and created it to describe, well, schlonk.