From India and back: Outsourcing v citizen journalists

One of my favorite reads of the week is The Sunday New York Times. Surprising, thorough and informative. After reading it, you can’t but feel a little bit smarter, even if you disagree wth what was reported!

Two seemingly unrelated pieces of journalism caught my eye today: the first was an article in the front or A section and the other was Maureen Dowd’s column in the op-ed offerings.

The article, written by Brian Stelter and Noam Cohen, offers fascinating insight into how the terror attacks in Mumbai were covered over Twitter, Fickr and text messages.

A year ago, perhaps even six months ago, this would not have happened. But last week, as mainstream media worked to cover the carnage in Mumbai, Arun Shanbhag, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, filed short, first-hand reports on his Twitter account. As Stelter and Cohen describe, Shanbhag didn’t know it, but he was playing the important role of a citizen journalist. Covering the news. Firsthand. There is nothing more valuable in journalism than access to a breaking news event. Shanbhag, who also uploaded photos to the photo social media site Flickr, followed his instincts and got the word out. Good reporting starts with the ability to observe and the communicate what you saw.

Back to the New York Times.  The well-known Maureen Dowd wrote about James Macpherson, publisher of the Pasadena Now daily onlline paper. Macpherson has hired reporters in Bangalore, India, to cover the local news in Pasadena, as in California.

Newspapers are outsourcing all over the place as they strive to cut costs and make any semblance of a profit. Publishers may be able to outsource the design of their paper. Perhaps other aspects of the newsroom as well. But it seems impractical to outsource to India the kind of firsthand observations Shanbhag provided those who follow him on Twitter.

Newspapers are learning to use the power of citizen journalists armed with Twitter and other social media to aggragate the information of their communities, as well as the news of the world. Yes, the world is getting smaller. It’s a world where a frightened university professor can stand on the brink of a terror attack and tell the world what he sees.

Even Sunday night, as I write this post, I can review commentary from bloggers, reports from mainstream media and the reactions of Twitterers to the terror attacks.

The possibilities that stem from this and from Shanbhag’s reports are game-changing. The outsourcing of local California news coverage to India ? Feels more like a a foul ball.

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