Monday, May 14, 2007

The India Incident: Macpherson Responds

[NB: Post bumped to the top by reader request. Regular FC coverage continues below.]

By all accounts, James Macpherson got quite a bit more than he bargained for when he made the decision to hire a pair of Indian reporters to cover Pasadena's local news. Jill at Eye Level Pasadena has a massive list of everyone who's talking about the story in the blogosphere and the media. Our own comments got more of a response than we anticipated. To add to the folks we noted last week, LAist had an interesting post on the subject that included our thoughts and a Newsweek article featured some of our comments.

Between emails with these people and the comments, we've been having a great conversation about local journalism generally and Pasadena Now's situation specifically. But now, we can happily add the thoughts of the person at the center of this media firestorm, James Macpherson. While he has come in for some serious criticism in some quarters, perhaps his words will make the most bitter critics reconsider.

James Macpherson says:

I have been struggling for over two years to grow a website which will serve the public good and which will strive to present news and information without bias in a community which I believe is underserved by local media.

I have sold family heirlooms and given this effort my all, because I believe this community will be a better place to live in if we use the internet to connect the community. I have briefed public officials on the use of the internet to connect citizens and government, advocated for the arts, and given of myself to help this community become a better place.

I’ve struggled financially, and if people think I’m rich or greedy they haven’t bothered to check.

The idea of using writers based in India came to me as one of dozens and dozens ideas I’ve had over two years to keep my website growing on a non-existent budget.

Let’s be clear: This isn’t outsourcing in the sense it replaces employees (I’ve never employed writers); with a budget of only $400 a week it’s not like I can afford to hire too many.

My concept was to locate ghostwriters, educated and experienced writers who would follow my instructions, use my research and interview transcripts, and produce contents for me at my direction.

I’ve been asked if I tried to use local college student interns first, before I tied this. Answer: Of course I have. You should see all my correspondence with PCC, USC, Citrus College, Glendale Community College, Azusa Pacific, Cal Poly Pomona, and La Verne? I ended up finding a wonderful young woman from Azusa Pacific, who did well for us, plus four USC interns, of whom only one ever turned in even one article. I got in trouble from the Old Pasadena Merchants Association with that article, who demanded I remove it.

I had to work like crazy calling and contacting Professors and Job Centers at these Colleges and Universities to find prospective writers and it was – except for USC, which is very well organized – like pulling teeth to get any students to apply or return my telephone calls. I just gave up, I don’t have time for playing games.

Oh, and the lovely young gal who was an intern at Azusa Pacific? She graduated and now will work only for $30,000 a year (for the first 30 days, then a review) plus wants health insurance and vacations. She also stipulated 9am to 5pm, please – Monday through Friday.

In the beginning, this was a simple idea to convert the raw material I gather – photographs, recorded interviews, notes, and background research – into articles that are crafted the way I prefer and reflect my goals of objectivity and accuracy.

It was a simple idea to serve my fellow citizens.


A lot of commenters have been asking "isn't there anyone around here who would do it?" It seems as if, even if there are writers around, they're hard to find.

Frankly, unlike many of the people who have emailed us, we don't have some kind of jingoistic aversion to foreigners covering our local news. In fact, given the James' troubles in keeping a dedicated local journalist, it sounds like there's a niche for writers who will do the serious grunt work (e.g. watching every minute of city council meetings) and write it up. With a good editor, as Ed Barrera has noted, there's no reason to think they couldn't cover a lot of the basic happenings in the city.

To Macpherson's credit, there really isn't anyone covering these kinds of local issues that thoroughly. If a city council meeting runs late, reporters have to make deadlines and people often leave. Having someone sit through every single meeting and looking at other happenings around the city with the same exhaustiveness is a service that isn't really being provided.

That being said, a lot of local news really is tied to an incredibly complex web of people and issues that often can't be or just aren't directly mentioned in the article. Those kinds of connections probably aren't going to be made thousands of miles away.

Enough of us pontificating, let's hear your thoughts in the comments.

27 comments:

Erin S. said...

First of all, I doubt Mr. McPherson has gotten "more than he bargained for" with this--I imagine hits to his site have gone thru the roof during this time.

Second, the self-righteousness of some of the commenters demanding local reporters covering the news is a bit ridiculous--as McPherson points out--running a news operation ain't cheap, and a relatively new news-source like Pasadena Now certainly can't have deep pockets. Last I checked the constitution didn't include an inalienable right to have local reporters for every online news source.

Would any of the indignant folks leaving comments work for the salaries McPherson's paying these Indian reporters? Would they make donations to his enterprise so he can hire local folks? Would they really want to take responsibility for sitting thru every single local city council meeting?

This all seems like quite the tempest in the teapot if ya ask me.

Anonymous said...

I admire Mr. McPherson's efforts. His heart is in the right place, and even though his means are somewhat atypical he seems like a fair enough man to do the work. The idea of employing foreigners to do local news is somewhat outlandish still in my book, but his prudential argument I think is respectable.

Upstarts like Mr. McPherson deserve our praise. Men/Women who want to help their fellow citizens should be celebrated, but it would be nice, if he gets the means to help them have jobs.

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