Both high-end and low-end reporting jobs can be outsourced

Note: This blog post also ran in the Society of Professional Journalism’s “Journalism and the World” blog. Click here to see the original post.

Low end reporting work: Get press release. Rewrite to AP style. Call the company involved for a follow-up quote. File.

High end reporting work: Research a difficult technical, financial, regulatory, medical or scientific subject. Call a dozen experts or participants. Write an in-depth, analytical story. File.

Both types of work can be done by telephone and Internet. Neither require on-the-ground reporting.

Here in Shanghai, we do cover a lot of Chinese stories. It helps that we have Chinese speakers on staff to read Chinese-language reports and conduct interviews. But we also cover all of Asia-Pacific, especially when it comes to the payments, securities and outsourcing industries. These are specialized fields where subject matter expertise is more important than nation of origin.

But, more than that, we also cover US and European finance and technology stories, using writers in China and India.

Part of it is the fact that, for specialized stories, geographical boundaries are meaningless. For example, even when I was reporting from the US, I often quoted technology users at brokerage companies in Europe and Asia, even when the vendors themselves were based in the United States. And the experiences of those users are more and more like those of users in US offices. If a bank in Japan, for example, has a problem with a particular online banking platform, banks in the US will probably have the same issues. (Except in cases where local conditions, such as double-character fonts, are at fault.)

The other part is that once you can talk to a bank or a brokerage in Japan or Korea or Australia or Germany, you can talk to a bank anywhere. If you’ve figured out what service oriented architectures are all about, you can use that knowledge in any story. A background in chemistry or medicine can help you tackle these specialized stories in any geography.

Finally, many stories no longer have a particular geography associated with them. For example, for a story about a particular company’s plans for China, we might talk to their China managers and customers. We would also talk to senior executives in the United States, and experts and analysts in both countries.

These days more and more stories fall into the latter category as entire industries become globalized overnight.

Add to that the fact that executives rarely sit in one spot anymore — they’re flying all over the planet.

It’s happened to me more than once this past year:

I call a US company to set up an interview with executives. The PR person organizes the call. I get up in the middle of the night to call in. During introductions, I explain that I’m calling in from Shanghai. Then the vice president explains that he’s calling in from India. And the other senior exec is calling in from Japan. The only one on the call for whom it’s the middle of the day is the low-level PR person organizing it. (Much hilarity and embarrassment for the PR person ensues.)

So it comes down to experience. Does the reporter know the industry? Know the technology? Have the financial or scientific background to tackle the story?

The same things are important as with US-based reporters: How many years have they been covering the industry? Have they written articles on similar topics? Do they have an educational background that prepares them for the work?

Signing off in Shanghai,