Reuters outsourcing to India causes unease
Tuesday, 23 November 2004, 08:00 Hrs
LONDON: Outsourcing of journalistic jobs by Reuters to India has led to a "collapse of morale" at its office here with many staffers reportedly considering a strike. The shifting of "run-of-the-mill" reporting on company statements to Bangalore has been termed by staffers at the premier international news agency as the "Indian mutiny at Reuters". Journalists suspect the management could move more of their jobs to India as part of its economy drive. The Independent reported on the growing discontent Monday in a report titled "Indian mutiny looms at Reuters: Call centres aren't the only workplaces to be threatened with". "Even journalists with years of specialist experience are wondering whether one year or maybe five years from now, somebody else will be doing their job from a desk in India or Thailand, and so deep is the unease that an informal ballot in the London office last week found that 84 percent of staff were ready to consider a strike," the report said. The company's management has denied plans to relocate high-skill editing jobs, but insiders and union officials claim that work involving progressively higher skills is steadily migrating from London and Washington to a new Reuters centre in Bangalore. "The concern at Reuters mainly involves staff in Britain and the US, the company's biggest divisions and, in labour terms, most expensive. A long-running programme of economies is finally encroaching on editorial workers. "The changes to date are modest, involving only a few dozen jobs, but staff say the company needs further savings to meet targets, and they believe they know where things are heading," the Independent said. The report mentioned the growth of US company reporting from Bangalore. Reuters made most of its revenue by moving business data and news around the world, and a year or so ago, it expanded its coverage of smaller US companies by hiring a team of journalists in Bangalore and gave them the task of handling the news and facts in company statements, the report said. The company's latest plan, the report said, will transfer to Bangalore coverage of companies outside the top 500 - another 1,000, and bigger ones. Specialist reporters will remain in the US to cover industries and attend press conferences, but run-of-the-mill work will be done in India. "Reuters is entering uncharted territory," a senior Reuters journalist is quoted as telling the newspaper. "It is beginning to relocate jobs that require selectivity and news judgement." The report mentioned the example of the editorial reference unit in London, which was reportedly bound for Bangalore. It is essentially a library but the staff also produce content for the Reuters service, such as background, chronologies and "fact boxes" that go out to subscribers and are sometimes printed in newspapers. The report added that also heading eastwards was the production of what is known as the Washington Daybook, a daily news diary service that is profitable and esteemed in the US. Three journalists write and edit it in Washington, DC, relying on contacts and news feeds. The paper quoted Peter Szekely, who chairs the Reuters unit of the Newspaper Guild, the journalists' union in the US, as saying: "The idea that you can produce the Daybook in Bangalore without loss of quality is laughable. And that's not a reflection on Indian journalists; the idea that you can have people on the other side of the planet trying to cover events here is flawed, to say the least." The company presents this as a gain for skilled journalists. David Schlesinger, Reuters' global managing editor, is quoted as saying: "We're trying to fillet out the work that doesn't have to be done on the spot and move it elsewhere. We want to free our more expensive journalists for face-to-face, on-the-spot tasks to get the best value." The process, he admits, is "very difficult, frightening and painful" in the short term, and some people are losing their jobs, but he insists the payoff will be a better, healthier Reuters.