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Journalists Protests Over Reuters' Outsourced News

Newsday | May 17, 2005

Union employees at Reuters are stepping up their campaign against the wire service's outsourcing of U.S. jobs, most recently transferring the editing and caption writing of photos to its Singapore office and some Internet work to Toronto.

Members of the Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America have distributed leaflets outside Reuters' office in Times Square. Critical ads also have been placed in Investor's Business Daily and the Columbia Journalism Review, and more are planned for the Web.

To support their position that outsourcing undermines the quality of Reuters' journalism, union activists point to a string of high-profile errors, most originating from a small newsroom set up last year in Bangalore, India. The errors include misidentification of the Polish city of Krakow as being in Portugal and saying Army Reservist Lynndie England, who was involved in the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq, was commander of her unit rather than a private.

Reuters executives acknowledged that some mistakes had occurred but said the "error rate" from Bangalore didn't exceed company guidelines. They also said the wire service's "migration" of jobs to Asia and Canada from here and Britain is about more than cost-savings and involves boosting the number of stories and graphic images available to newspapers, Web sites and other customers.

Union official and editor John Phillips, who handed out leaflets Friday, said news consumers should be concerned about Reuters' offshore initiative because "it affects the quality of your news. ... You have to cover the news from where the news is happening, not from thousands of miles away."

No guild member has received a pink slip because of outsourcing, but six to eight are "at risk" - primarily in the Washington office - because of last month's opening of the global photo-editing desk in Singapore, according to Bill O'Meara, secretary-treasurer of the union's New York local. It represents about 450 Reuters employees and has been in protracted contract negotiations for more than two years.

A Reuters spokeswoman said outsourcing would not reduce its pool of journalists, which totals 2,300 worldwide, but that some of the 100 affected workers may leave because they don't like their new assignments.

"The actual number of job losses have been minimal" in New York City, said global managing editor David Schlesinger. "We are just trying to make better use of the resources we have and to add even more content."

Schlesinger also said he was offended by the guild's suggestion - which the union has denied - that American journalists are superior to their foreign counterparts. The wire service remains committed to "on-the-ground reporting, but some stories can be done very well by telephone or by reading something on the Internet," he said from India.

The experiment begun last year to have earnings reports and other news from small U.S. companies handled by the Bangalore office has been expanded to 30 journalists from six. Separately, graphics for Latin America, once produced in Miami, have been farmed out to a regional vendor.

These moves are part of a cost-cutting plan aimed at making London-based Reuters more competitive with rivals such as Bloomberg and Dow Jones. Hundreds of information-technology jobs have been moved overseas, to Thailand and India, including at least 40 from Reuters' offices in Hauppauge and Lake Success, where as recently as a year ago at least 450 people worked.

Reuters is believed to be the first big media company to embrace outsourcing, but it probably won't be the last, according to experts. Linda Foley, president of the 35,000-member Newspaper Guild, said, "If a sterling news organization like Reuters can do this, can others be far behind?"



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