The outsourced newspaper

The Daily Express decides to outsource its business section to the Press Association, the UK wire service (its Associated Press), cutting a tenth of the paper’s 350-strong staff.

It makes sense, as far as it goes. When I was Sunday editor of the New York Daily News, I worked to outsource our TV grids and book. Papers have long since done this with financial tables. Why not whole sections? If I ran a chain like Gannett or McClatchy (no thanks), I’d consolidate or outsource all kinds of editing. Yes, it makes sense on paper.

But what about off paper and online? There, if you don’t want to go to the expense of having a business section, if it’s not core to what you do, then you can link to one. And that forces you to decide what is core. What is it that just you can do and that can’t be outsourced?

When you’ve answered that question, then, finally, you’ve decided what your news organization is really all about.

  • That logic makes sense, but doesn’t it assume that what is core involves – at some point – good product, not just naked profit?

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  • Bobbie,
    I’d say the real question is: What is the core product? Need it be a paper that covers all ends of news? Isn’t business news — especially badly or litely done — becoming more of a commodity? I know the analogies to US papers are faulty to the core, but to go with what I know: Biz sections in US papers suck as a rule and they would probably be better done by the wire service, which supplies most of the content anyway. And for local papers here, local news is the core product. Now for the Express, I know it’s different. But if we take the product off paper and put it online, I would still say this raises the necessary question: What is that core product? Need business be part of it or should that be a link to a better product elsewhere? What is the essential Express? That’s what fascinates me about this. I realize that it’s not such an abstract exercise to the journalists made redundant. But it’s an exercise we have no choice but to go through. Results may differ.

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  • The logic of this move by this paper makes sense, yes: few – if any – readers will buy the Daily Express because of its business coverage; why waste scarce resources on things our readers don’t want or don’t care about?

    However, looking at the reductionist argument – “what is our core product” – makes sense only if there is a tangible core product to consider. Richard Desmond’s behaviour as a newspaper proprietor indicates to me, and many others, that his “core product” is profit and little else (also note the Daily Express has no discernable internet presence, so little chance for long-term growth of any kind).

    Pondersome journalists are often accused of caring too much about editorial quality, but it’s one of the few things we have left when we are stripping things down to their core. That’s why, even if you’re being bold, the use of outsourcing should strengthen both the core product (through better investment and clearer decision-making) and the wider product (by giving readers a better version of what you already spend too much time and money doing badly).

    Looking at many American newspapers in particular, it seems to me that a huge slice of the work (ie the writing) is already outsourced to AP and the bigger news organisations.

  • Bobbie’s comment brings up an interesting thread… which i would like to hear Jeff’s thoughts on…’

    So… in the future, open-sourced-distributed-user-generated world of news… how do news organizations define and defend a “core poduct”. It obviously makes sense to “outsource” those areas that are not “core product” but that quickly gets to how a bricks and mortar current gen news company re-defines its core product.

    I recently had a conversation with the owner of a TV station in Hagerstown Maryland. His arguement was that they were “hyperlocal” and so didn’t need regional or national news. Clearly that was and could be outsourced. Ok… so, local news, right? Well, not quite, there are a dozen local web sites covering the school board, the town council, etc.

    Hagerstown is in the mountains of Maryland, near parks, wine country, recreational venues like skying… was that it? Not sure? So exactly what role do local news providers file in the future? When does “outsourcing” become an excuse for not investing the resources to create relevant and interesting information users really want? and how do you know?

    This is all going to get sorted out…. ’cause the “great migration” from broadcast to broadband will force a re-allignment of business models. But these companies will be challenged to define their “core products”.

  • jazzone

    Jeff, you asked: ‘What is the essential Express?’

    I suggest: Conspiracy theories about the death of Princess Diana, grotesque immigrant bashing, over written weather stories and celeb photos.

    A truly awful paper owned by a porn baron who doesn’t give a damn about journalism.

  • Business sections in local papers are getting to be non-existent. You’re lucky if you have a Sunday business section in a local paper and when you do, it’s full of wire or Wall Street Journal Sunday copy (if the paper pays for this service.) Newsrooms are thin and so is the niche reporting in small local papers.
    That opens up a lot of opportunity for online startups to provide niche business news in small, local markets. Heck, how about producing an online business journal five days a week and printing a big book on Sunday, targeting high-income households who have the time to read and spend money. A reversal of tradition, but these are changing times.

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