Outsourcing and downsizing is a common theme in media as it is in most industries. But the announcement from Fairfax in Australia that it will be cutting 550 jobs raises the familiar question of whether the quality of news can remain the same with fewer journalists (see article in The Australian Fairfax sheds 550 jobs and quality journalism).

The clear response to the announcement has been concern that editorials, and in particular investigatory journalism will suffer, reducing the “fourth estate’s” ability to act as society’s monitor and watchdog over business and government.

The move towards outsourcing news stories – particularly foreign news – to news agencies and wire services such as AP, Reuters, and Bloomberg has been a trend for a long time. How often have you scanned several news sources only to find the same news verbatim?

Ironically, in the past, newspapers’s adoption of new information technologies was used to rationalise the posting of reporters around the world, as they could report back instantly (don’t take my word on this). These communications technologies however have resulted in a far more centralised production process where a few companies distribute reports to newspapers around the world.

Evidently, outsourcing of articles to syndicated news agencies can result in a reduced variety of available ‘news’ products. But a few things worth noting are:

  • We also have access to a far greater range on news sources online that we have in the past
  • The volume of news has increased phenomenally – newspapers maybe be using more syndicated news, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are cutting their core offerings.
  • Web 2.0, which we are all spending more time using, clearly appears to be challenging some news companies, just as they had embraced the internet as it was. Fairfax did particularly badly with its entry into online services.
  • The Fairfax cut equates to about 5 per cent of total full-time staff. But notable (in my opinion) is that its flagship product the Australian Financial Review is to remain unaffected. These journalists write well and know their stuff.