Observer sends jobs to India | News Feature | Creative Loafing Charlotte
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Observer sends jobs to India 

Q.C. daily outsources workforce

Telemarketers do it. Banks do it.

Cable companies and computer companies do it.

Now, newspapers are joining in.

We're talking outsourcing; i.e., when businesses send work overseas in order to save money.

The Charlotte Observer has become the latest newspaper to outsource work. According to a recent article in the paper, 25 of 41 jobs in their advertising design group will be moving offshore to India.

In the article, Observer publisher Ann Caulkins said the outsourcing deal with Affinity Express -- an Illinois company with facilities in India and the Philippines -- is expected to save the paper 35 to 40 percent on labor costs.

Now, the Observer's move may seem heinous, but a number of other media organizations see the deal as a positive for Charlotte's only daily newspaper. Gerald Johnson, publisher of The Charlotte Post, says outsourcing may hurt but it's something that has to be done in this economy.

"In the market that we're in now, [outsourcing] is almost a necessity. From a business perspective, it's pretty smart for several different reasons. In times when revenue is tight, outsourcing is a good way to go."

Johnson says the Post does outsource some of its design labor -- but to a local company.

"Outsourcing is not a good thing initially for the economy because a lot of good, talented people lose jobs," says Johnson. "But over the long term, those people start businesses on their own and figure out a way to survive."

Johnson says his newspaper hasn't had to lay off anyone due to the fact that an outside company does some of the design.

But while the Observer's outsourcing deal may be good for the bottom line, it sucks for rank-and-file workers and sets a chilling precedent for Charlotte-based media outlets.

William Cashion, president of the Southern Piedmont Central Labor Council, says outsourcing is just a way for companies to "take advantage of people who will work for poverty-level wages."

Those who lost their jobs at the Observer are reportedly receiving severance packages based on their years of service to the company; however, in this soft economy finding a new job may prove to be difficult.

"The public sector sat by and didn't mind when [outsourcing] was happening to unions. Now they're seeing what's going on," says Cashion. "Where are our children going to work?"

Caulkins was unavailable for comment at press time, but she tells her paper that the Observer had to be convinced that the service would be superior and that the outsourcing would not impact customers.

According to the Newspaper Association of America, outsourcing is growing in the industry. Mort Goldstrom, vice president of advertising at the NAA, says, "It's a relatively new development for newspapers to outsource their creative and design departments."

Goldstrom says that newspapers don't always let employees go when they outsource their jobs. Some, he says, keep the more creative employees in house to work on bigger and more creative areas of the paper. And although outsourcing to companies like Affinity may save money, Goldstrom says he wonders if these offshore companies will be able to handle the volume of advertisements that go into papers.

"Even small papers have a huge number of ads that go in," he says. "Will these companies be able to handle the volume? Especially when they have multiple papers at a facility."

But how is outsourcing affecting the industry? And how long will it be before the actual writing and reporting of news is outsourced as well?

As far back as two years ago, outsourcing was an issue at papers in England. The International Herald Tribune wrote in 2006 that executives at London's Daily Express outsourced its entire business section to a local press association.

Could the same thing happen around these parts?

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