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Wednesday, May 30, 2007 02:18 pm

The off-shoring of local news

Why not cover city council from New Delhi?

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Untitled Document Here in Austin, Texas, a TV station fired its news director and didn’t replace him. Instead, the conglomerate owner decided to put the news director of its Tampa, Fla., station in charge of our “local” news coverage. Rumor has it that the Tampa guy had once visited our fair city, so apparently that qualified him to be the long-distance arbiter of Austin news. Can journalism sink any lower? Of course it can! Blazing a new path to the journalistic bottom, a Web journal that covers city politics and government in Pasadena, Calif., has gone much further than Tampa to get local coverage. James MacPherson, editor and publisher of pasadenanow.com, flung his job net all the way to India to find low-cost journalists to report on the happenings in Pasadena. MacPherson says that because city council meetings can be watched on the Internet, a reporter from anywhere can cover what’s happening. Excuse me, but even if you were sitting right in front of most city council meetings, you still wouldn’t know what the heck was happening, because the real deals are cut in the back rooms. Well, says MacPherson, “Whether you’re at a desk in Pasadena or a desk in Mumbai, you’re still just a phone call or e-mail away from the interview.” Yes, but — hello! — it helps if the interviewer has some clue about the cultural nuances and community dynamics at work . . . something a bit more solid than having seen the Rose Bowl Parade on TV. They say that a big part of life consists of simply being there — and in real journalism, it seems to me, “being there” requires more than virtual reality.
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist, and author.
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