News outlets with any foreign bureaus will be at a disadvantage in the future of news 12/2/07Posted by Steve Boriss in Foreign bureaus.
If the NY Times and other Old Media outlets hope to survive their first real competition in decades, they had better learn quickly some lessons learned long ago in more competitive industries. For instance, most other industries would instantly understand that operating bricks and mortar foreign bureaus, or even employing full-time employees overseas, is likely a drain on both profits and quality – particularly in the age of global Internet communications. Foreign bureaus violate the business rule-of-thumb that if a service can be done better and cheaper by another party it is usually best to outsource it and take advantage of that party’s lower costs and higher quality. In addition to avoiding costs for resources that are rarely fully-used, those outlets that instead contract for foreign services on an as-needed basis can secure individuals with greater local knowledge, just the right topic expertise needed for each story, and in just the right location. Costs would likely be low because most foreign talent would already be subsidized by local news outlets.
Old Media’s best and brightest seem oblivious to this basic business principle. In a speech last week, NY Times Executive Editor Bill Keller bragged that the NY Times deployed “worldwide a corps of trained, skilled reporters to witness events,” as if these few, scattered individuals could actually be eyewitnesses to spontaneous, scattered events or were experts in every topic area they might cover. The American Journalism Review raves about the AP’s foreign coverage upon which Old Media has become increasingly dependent, focusing on the great work of a generalist reporter who has been in Indonesia all of 7 years, with a pittance of the experience of a foreign national. Regarding the greater freedom to report the truth we might expect from American reporters, CNN’s Eason Jordan has taught us that American reporters are no more likely to incur the wrath of tyrants than foreign nationals. Moreover, news outlets who use AP’s foreign services are offering news that is completely undifferentiated from that of all the other AP members, and widely available on the Internet. It does not bode well for an industry when even well-proven business practices are foreign.