Outsourcing Local News

The May 11 issue of the Los Angeles Times reported that a website called Pasadena Now, an online daily newspaper, had hired two reporters currently living in India to cover local Pasadena City Council meetings. According to the Times, the city council meetings are broadcast over the web; consequently, the journalists, one living in Mumbai and the other in Bangalore, can cover the events taking place in Pasadena while being on the other side of the world.

In theory, outsourcing may seem appropriate for what some media outlets consider “dry,” or “necessary but uninteresting” news items. But, let’s not forget the importance of actually being at the meeting. By outsourcing this kind of local news coverage, the content delivered by the two journalists in India lack both color and texture, the local twists that only someone present or integrally connected to the community could possible know. Hence, what they probably get is truly uninteresting coverage.

This kind of thinking (and execution) could be one of the many reasons why most large daily newspapers have suffered dramatic declines in circulation. Not that they have outsourced their local news coverage (they haven’t), but that they have contempt for it.

One type of newspaper that has flourished in spite of (or perhaps, in part, because of) the decline of major dailies is the smaller weekly publication that focuses on really local news. There is no contempt for local news around here, and outsourcing our coverage of Montecito people and events would never, ever, occur to us. We at Montecito Journal, in fact, take the opposite approach. We regularly seek out community members for news.

Why We Are Different

Thanks to the Internet, national and international news ­– the kind of news major dailies generally excel at – is easy to come by; readers no longer have to wait until it is delivered to their doorstep. Over the years, many major dailies neglected and even cut back on local news to tend to the prestige of their national and international coverage. Smaller papers like ours, on the other hand, may only cover one tiny place, but if it’s a community wherein most residents are connected to everything that happens, and care deeply about the past, present and future, our prestige is wrapped up in exactly that coverage.

We cover human interest stories, local school events, fundraisers, estate sales, concerts, real estate transactions, the openings and closings of local shops and businesses, the coming and going of residents and their families. Major dailies pass up many of these things, but to us this is the news that life is made of.

Freelancing the News

One of the best things about a paper like ours is that one need not be a professional news gatherer to report for us. As new people arrive in Montecito, they bring with them demographic and political change. Those moving from other areas of the country bring a different set of values and direction. Over the past 12 years, this village has gone from that of a sleepy hideaway to a national destination of choice. To stay in touch with those changes, we are always on the lookout for new contributors in order to be kept informed. Our eyes and ears are the generous people of Montecito who give us a call when they feel something newsworthy has occurred, or is brewing. Every person has a story worth telling and it is those stories by, of, and from your friends, family, and acquaintances that make us tick.

Unlike traditional dailies that employ a large staff, we rely upon local moms, pops, kids, students, teachers, real estate agents, retired businessmen and women, and anyone who is willing to pitch in and contribute their “news.” We have no screening process and are eager and open to receive news from anyone. One can come into our office and offer a piece of advice (which is always greatly appreciated), lodge a complaint, enlighten us or titillate with some fun gossip.

In our 12 years of existence, we’ve developed an extensive network of sources and resources to help us cover this unique community. If you’d like to be part of that network, please contact me at tim@montecitojournal.net. Let me say it again: we are always looking for new contributors.