Monday, December 14, 2009

Local knows best

I have a bone to pick with Thomas Friedman.

The New York Times columnist Sunday talked about a childhood friend, pummeled by the Great Recession, who has learned to become more innovative through what Friedman calls the Great Inflection: relatively cheap, abundantly available services delivered via the Web.

His friend, who owns a marketing agency, had to "radically downsize" because of the deep recession that began in December 2007, but found he could still take on projects -- and deliver them more economically -- by outsourcing many of the steps to a finished product.

He has learned to be innovative, Friedman wrote, and if only banks would lend again, the marketing agency -- and many other companies -- would take off, reinvigorating the economy. That was the column's purpose: to plead for loosening the vice grip on credit. The Great Recession and Great Inflection have made companies "ultralean" and more productive. "But we're like a superfit track star with a weak heart," Friedman says. "We've got to get credit pumping in our industrial muscles again."

Yet to be innovative, Friedman's friend passed over local voice talent for a film the agency was doing for a nonprofit and went online to find stock photo images it could use. Doing the former, the friend indicated, cost the agency just 10 percent of the $250 to $500 an hour the local voices would have charged. The latter cost a few bucks, vs. $100 to $2,000 per image in normal royalties.

And there's my beef.

Remember the "Think Global, Act Local" sentiment? Nowadays, it seems local be damned.

The Toronto Star decided last month that it needed to move copy-editing and page-layout duties outside the company -- affecting nearly 80 workers -- to save money. On Friday, Alan Mutter, a former newspaperman turned Silicon Valley CEO, warned in his Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, that others likely will take up that mantle:

"The jobs of news editors, photo editors, copy editors and page designers may face wholesale elimination at some newspapers in the new year as publishers seek to cut costs by outsourcing editorial production to cheaper vendors," he wrote.


Mutter says outside vendors promise papers savings of up to 55 percent to take over production: editing stories, writing headlines, cropping pictures, laying out pages. But if they're not ready to take that step, owners might look to have just one dedicated desk handle production across several papers in their chain, Mutter says -- which still will cost the jobs of workers involved in production at each paper.

Yes, savings are realized, but at what cost? Jobs are lost, of course, but oftentimes credibility takes a hit, too. Just ask any editor on the other end of a reader tongue-lashing for not putting an event in the proper, known-to-all-locals neighborhood. You might as well mix up Manhattan and Queens.

Let's be locovores of more than just our food.

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