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To Outsource or Not to Outsource

Posted on Sunday, October 30, 2016 at 11:56 PM

This month, we surveyed our readers about outsourcing editorial functions. What did they have to say?

By the Editors Only Staff

In our August 2012 issue, we talked to magazine and newspaper editors about outsourcing editorial, design, and production processes to freelancers. Four years later, we decided to survey our readers again, this time homing in on overseas outsourcing in particular. What are the current trends? Have opinions changed since our last survey?

The Survey

Here are the questions we asked editors:

--Would you ever consider outsourcing any of your publication's editorial functions abroad? If so, what would be the first jobs on your list?

--What editorial work would you never outsource abroad?

--Are you currently outsourcing editorial work abroad? If so, what jobs, and how is it going?

Responses ran a wide gamut. Some editors were unequivocal in their responses, telling us that they would never outsource any processes overseas. Others told us that they use domestic freelancers but would not outsource to overseas vendors.

To Outsource

Steve Anderson, executive editor of The Anderson Agency Report (TAAR), does outsource some editorial functions overseas. "I currently have two people in India that do initial research and first draft of articles, blog posts, digital course content, and social media management," he tells us. "I feel like the overall process is going well. It does take some training and teaching to overcome some limitations because of the British India English being taught. I do have to do quite a bit of line item editing. Interestingly, it seems the biggest grammatical issue is the use or lack of use of prepositions in the appropriate places. However, even with some of these limitations, it significantly increases my productivity."

Myriam Beaugé, editor-in-chief of Mall Media Inc., has also considered outsourcing: "We would outsource editorial functions abroad, and that would be writing. We have done this in the past, working with either columnists or contributing writers (i.e., freelancers). Since our magazine is a global one, it makes sense to have content come from various markets. Another function that I would consider outsourcing is proofreading."

Not to Outsource

For some association publishers, it makes the most sense to keep editorial functions in-house to preserve stylistic and functional continuity. Tricia Bisoux, co-editor at BizEd magazine, writes: "We have no plans for outsourcing any editorial functions abroad. We are a small bimonthly association publication that averages 74 pages an issue. The fact that we're an association publication requires keeping the central editorial function closely aligned with the association (and, so, closely connected to the association), and the fact that our publication is small would mean that any cost savings wouldn't be worth the additional hassles involved in dealing with a third-party service provider."

There are logistical problems with outsourcing editorial functions, particularly editing and proofreading, overseas, where English may be the vendor's second language. Mary Ruth Johnsen, editor of Welding Journal and Inspection Trends, weighs in: "We have never considered outsourcing any of our publication's editorial functions abroad. Of course, we have a small staff and prefer that we're all located in one place for more effective communications. Also, our local newspaper, the Miami Herald, has outsourced its copy editing functions ... and we have seen how its quality has changed for the worse since that happened. We have a section of peer-reviewed research articles in our publication, many of which come from [other] countries.... There are definitely language problems with those that we believe are best understood by people who understand American English."

Geography is a determining factor for publications whose content is region-specific. Michelle Perron, executive editor of Nurse Practitioner Perspective, says: "The answers to both questions are 'no.' We would not consider outsourcing abroad because our content is specific to the American healthcare audience. I don't believe writers in other countries could write with the expert voice our audiences are expecting from us."

High-Profile Outsourcing Stories

In September 2014, AdAge.com reported that Time Inc. was looking to send 160 editorial positions overseas, a rumored restructuring that put them at odds with the Newspaper Guild of New York, which characterized the move as "'hollow[ing] out its own company.'" After two years of negotiations, Time Inc. and the Guild finally came to an agreement in September 2016 allowing for the outsourcing of 50 newsroom jobs, as well as 80 temporary Guild positions, according to the New York Post.

What Our Survey Results Tell Us

As was the case in 2012 when we last covered outsourcing, mileage varies depending on several factors. Outsourcing is a sensitive topic, one that many publishing executives are understandably reluctant to discuss. It is, for many, a last resort when all other options to recover lost revenue have failed. It can be a harbinger of imminent restricting and/or layoffs, or of impending job description rewrites as workloads reshuffle. This can leave eliminated and surviving editors alike feeling disenfranchised and vulnerable.

We can't draw too many concrete conclusions from the available survey responses. For some, outsourcing is a critical component of their publishing plan and workflow. For others, it would present logistical and editorial problems that would offset any cost savings. But we can safely say that overseas outsourcing is not a black and white issue.

Perhaps in a few years we will revisit the topic and find that trends and opinions have evolved even more. Until then, stay tuned!

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