Tag Archives: outsourcing

Transcontinental centralizes pagination in Maritimes

It’s the craze that’s sweeping the nation: centralized pagination. Instead of having people layout their own newspapers, big newspaper companies (including Quebecor and my employer Canwest) and have editors send stories to a pagination factory where specialists put together the pages for you and send them back.

The presentation is usually the same: The specialists are well-trained, local reporters and editors remain in control and have the final say, this will create “efficiencies” and allow journalists more time to focus on their core function – writing copy.

The hidden reality is that these copy editors tend to be non-unionized and have lower salaries, they have little connection to and may not even be familiar with the communities they serve, and the local journalists don’t have the time to correct all of the things a lazy, overworked copy editor hundreds of kilometres away might have done that they don’t agree with.

And, of course, with efficiencies come layoffs.

Transcontinental Media, which has already done this for its community papers in Quebec, is setting up a pagination shop in Charlottetown to handle layout for its Maritime papers. The number of layoffs isn’t known yet, but there will be some.

It could be worse: They could be outsourcing pagination to Bangalore.

Toronto Star wants to outsource 78 editing jobs

The Toronto Star, Canada’s national largest newspaper, has signed a deal with page-layout outsourcing firm Pagemasters and has informed its union that it plans to outsource 78 copy editing and layout jobs to this company, which form part of 121 job cuts it plans to save millions of dollars a year.

I’ve written before about the larger issue of the outsourcing of copy editing jobs. Saying I’m against it would be transparently self-serving, but I’d like to think there’s some magic in the designing of pages, writing of headlines and editing of copy that will be missed when the job is handed over to a third party that is interested more in volume than quality.

On the other hand, I’m pessimistic that readers will care enough about how their paper is produced to speak with their wallets and tip the economic balance in favour of those workers.

UPDATE: Torstar says it has “no choice” – which of course is not true. It also says it hopes to keep the same level of quality, which is obviously not feasible.

Copy editing: Does outsourcing it make sense?

As newspapers look forward to an increasingly bleak economic future, their managers are beginning to contemplate drastic measures to cut staff and/or expenses while doing their best to avoid cutting their most important jobs: middle managers reporters.

One of the measures that seems to be in vogue recently is the outsourcing or centralization of editorial page production and copy editing. Instead of having staff lay out pages and write headlines, editors ship reporters’ copy to a specialized production house where a team of dedicated personnel put the page together at a lower cost. Canadian Press has become the latest to jump into this field (Canwest and Sun Media are already there), signing a deal with Australia’s Pagemasters to setup a North American production house.

Since my job at The Gazette is a copy editor, and Canwest also uses this kind of centralization (though to another division within Canwest), I’m not exactly a detached observer here. My union is attempting to fight the outsourcing of this work, while at least one manager at a sister paper seems to support the freedom from dealing with “mechanical” and “tedious” pagination.

But with that in mind, I have to be honest with myself, and ask: Does this work? Is this the future? Is employee opposition to this way of functioning just a matter of saving their own jobs? Or is there something inherently better about having your own copy editing staff – something that is worth more than the cost savings of outsourcing?

Some small newspapers and magazines don’t do page layout at all. They don’t have the staff for it. So they leave the layout to the experts. As the budgets crunch, larger papers who have copy editing and design staff are considering moving the work of less important pages at the back of the paper onto these production houses and concentrating their efforts on the section fronts and local news pages that are most important to readers.

Does it cost less to have a page produced by one of these production houses than to have one of your own copy editors put it together? To answer that question, one has to look at where those cost savings come from. The unions would have us believe (and no doubt there is a lot of truth to this) that the savings come mostly from paying workers less in salary and benefits. Instead of veteran, unionized copy editors, the pages would be laid out by inexperienced cheap labour. They would also point out the downside of this: the non-unionized employees are cheap, have no emotional connection to the newspaper, and might make errors because of their lack of familiarity with either the newspaper’s style or local culture. These subtle issues may be dismissed by a bean-counter, but they make a difference to readers. At least, we’d like to think they do. In reality, readers aren’t nearly as observant as we sometimes think they should be.

When rolling out these systems, both the outsourcer and outsourcee make it clear that local editors approve of the layouts and headlines done by the third party. This technically ensures local control, but in practice an editor under time and budget constraints might accept a mediocre job done by an outsourced worker instead of spending the time (and possibly money) to send it back with instructions on how to do it right.

The employers and media empires say the cost savings come mainly from centralization – instead of having a dozen people doing the same thing at a dozen different newspapers, one or two people can do the same job at one central location for all of them. This argument makes sense for things like sports scores and stock listings (which will be mostly the same for different newspapers in the same country). But what about news stories? Each newspaper will lay those out differently depending on what stories they decide to publish, which ones they deem important, and of course what kind of layout they have to work with above the ads. Since no two newspaper pages are the same (copy-and-paste exceptions notwithstanding), it’s hard to see where centralization brings efficiency here for large newspapers who already have staff who are experts in page design.

The other potential problem down the road is that this might encourage newspapers within a similar ownership group to become more like each other (kind of like the Sun papers). If newspapers have the same page dimensions, typefaces and designs, they become easier to duplicate, reducing seemingly redundant work. Centralized workers can simply copy and paste the content from one to the other. And that could lead to newspapers across the country having identical international news pages or national business pages, for example. Eventually the papers could all become identical, save for the front page and a few holes for local news.

On one hand, it sounds bad. On the other hand, it sounds silly for people in different newsrooms at different papers to edit the same wire stories about the same news events. It’s a question of whether readers think that having a local editor editing a non-local wire story is really important enough to dismiss that potential savings.

I don’t have nearly enough facts to make a complete determination of whether this centralization is good or bad in the long term for newspapers (even if I did, the decisions on such subjects are made at a much higher pay grade), and a lot of these issues are still being wrestled with by people on all three sides of this equation.

Only time will tell if this trend will save significant money for major newspaper publishers, or if there will be a backlash from readers. Either way, the problems facing newspapers are much larger than whether the person laying out pages is local or not.

A few extra million

Some good news for my benevolent corporate overlords on Thursday as it announced that it has gotten $34 million as part of a settlement agreement with the Chicago Sun-Times concerning some unfinished business related to the sale of the Hollinger chain (including the Gazette) to Canwest in 2000. Sure, that money could be used to pay off debt, but I’m thinking it should be invested in bonuses to a low-level employee who could really use it. *cough*

Speaking of the Sun-Times, its management has abandoned a plan to outsource copy editing and layout outside the country, after rumours circulated that they would fire 30 workers and have an unnamed firm in Canada or India take up the work. Had they gone with Canada, the work would have probably been taken up by Canwest Editorial Services, a company in Hamilton that does work for Canwest papers as well as many clients worldwide.

Petition time

17 79 413 983 1944 2599 3165 3849 4668 signatures and counting…

UPDATE: Link love from CJAD, Montreal City Weblog, Montreal LJ and various Facebook pages, blogs and twitter statuses.

Of course, some people seem to think outsourcing editorial work is a good idea.

UPDATE (Oct. 24): I’ve seen some reactions on the level of “good riddance” from people who don’t like The Gazette or who think its quality has already degraded to the point where they don’t care. That’s really sad. Especially since I doubt any news outlet that swoops in to replace it would be any better. Instead, you’d see a version of Metro or a Sun Media paper or something. It’s a scary thought. Besides, if you’re not crazy about the paper’s management, why not support the union against them?

CanWest outsourcing more layout to non-union workers

The Tyee has an article about work being outsourced from the Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province newsrooms into non-unionized positions in Hamilton, Ont. Currently, Hamilton takes care of things like stock pages and sports scoreboards, work which can be replicated for more than one paper. The TV Times is also produced out of one location, with the local programming grids and paper’s logo slapped on at the end. But now CanWest’s Vancouver papers are sending more pages to be done there, which is worrying union leaders.

This is kind of one of those grey areas with unions. Is it OK to hire non-unionized workers for union jobs if it’s being done in another city? Can you shift jobs from a unionized part of a company to a non-unionized part without problems?

Sun editor-in-chief Patricia Graham calls the layout being transferred “essentially a mechanical function.” The article doesn’t give details about what exactly is being transferred, but I’m guessing it’s debatable how “mechanical” such a function really is.

UPDATE (Nov. 10): J-Source has another post on the CanWest situation, including a union response alleging that Global is violating its CRTC licenses by centralizing its newsrooms.

OMG they’ll outsource our students too!

Apparently realizing that there are no real issues in this school board election, Commission scolaire de Montréal candidate Michel Bédard has decided to invent a scandal. Bédard is running as an independent against incumbent Paul Trottier of the establishment party MEMO in Division 15, which is the area around the Gay Village in southeast downtown.

Bédard is complaining that the school board had Canada Post print some of its election material, and they did so in Toronto. Apparently this blatant outsourcing is taking jobs away from Montrealers willing to print flyers.