How many Australian journalists really make a difference, and how many just repackage other people’s work and process readily available information?

As Mother Jones reports, the new trend in international media is to outsource a great deal of journalism to India and other third world countries, following the lead of Reuters, which has for two years now operated a centre in Bangalore employing more than 100 journalists to process American financial news.

Editors talk about “value adding” and quality journalism, but anyone who has visited the offices of Hutchinson 3 Mobile or Sky News will know that a great deal of journalists these days are employed not to report, let alone investigate and interrogate, but rather to rehash and reheat information to serve the needs of different platforms.

Do a search for “journalist” on www.monsterindia.com (the Indian answer to Seek.com.au) and you can see the number and type of jobs that are available to service the United States and English media. It’s a coming thing.

Which raises the question: how much of what journalists do these days is special, holding the powerful to account, fulfilling the ideals of the fourth estate, or even getting original pictures and sound, and how much is doable by anyone from anywhere, a mere processing of information, staged announcements and PR spin?

The Australian Press Council’s recent report on the state of the print media identified the disturbing trend for stories to rely on only one source, and to be shorter. “Overall the paucity of reporting in depth… in metropolitan newspapers, while possibly reflecting the times and preferences of readers, is cause for thought,” the report said.

Is there anything about this kind of work that means it has to be done on these shores? And what’s to stop celebrity journalism, or even the reporting of government announcements, being pumped out from a factory somewhere in India? After all, it’s all on the web. And increasingly, public relations companies will even provide the vision to go with the words.

Creating instant bite-sized chunks of globalised news is certainly one of the ways of the future. The question is, will there be anything else? How many jobs will there be for the journalists who can do more than repackage and reheat?

One bleak view of the future is that people who want journalism that makes a difference will have to be prepared to pay a great deal more for it. For the rest, there will be the production lines of the third world.

The alternative is to rethink the whole thing, and ask what people actually want to know about that can’t be done from India? Think local, personal and conversational. It’s time, in other words, to get back in touch with the audience.

Peter Fray

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