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It’s one thing to read in the local paper about the outsourcing of jobs abroad, to India, to the Philippines, and it’s quite another thing to have it happen to you. And if you happen to work for the local paper, well...
The Sacramento Bee, under enormous fiscal pressure, is finding some unique ways to cut costs, from offering buy-outs to a hefty percentage of the people who write and edit the paper, to outsourcing the work of the people who design advertising, and currently, to the people who have, for decades, kept track of where the money goes.
The money is going to India. That’s the big story. It doesn’t seem right, but it adds up for The Bee’s parent company, McClatchy, which is desperate to avoid sinking out of sight altogether as its stock price plummets and circulation drops at its newspapers. The logic of the market is brutal.
But the little story is sadder, and more interesting, and it’s happening right here in midtown Sacramento, just blocks from where I write. Right now, a handful of eager young Indians from the city of Jaipur are getting the chance of a lifetime: They are spending their days at 21st and Q Streets, learning how to do the jobs of people who live in Sacramento, people who, come March 1 or thereabouts, will join the ranks of the local unemployed.
I spoke with Lanny Shay, a Bee employee for the last 18 years, who is currently doing the appalling task of training the people who will soon take his job back to India.
We could discuss the rightness or wrongness of this, but Shay himself says he understands the financial logic. And we could talk about the money that McClatchy is saving, and thereby, perhaps, saving our hometown newspaper. We could talk about the money that Shay and his soon-to-be-former co-workers will NOT be spending at the Tower Theatre and the Co-op and the Pine Cove and Cafe Bernardo and perhaps even on things advertised in The Bee’s shrinking classifieds.
Instead, we’ll just let Shay - who says he has a masters degree in finance from Stanford - talk for a bit about what he is seeing, and feeling, as he presides over his own obsolescence.
Basically, you have to train the person who’s taking your job. So if you do everything that’s asked of you, work long hours, do overtime, the best you can hope for is...you lose your job. My manager is trying to keep that in mind, but I think they lose sight of that. It’s weird.
I work in finance, accounting. On Sept. 14, they called six of us in and explained that the jobs were being outsourced to India. Our jobs are going to Jaipur. They’re jobs as finance clerk, accounting clerk, credit clerk, it’s a smattering of positions. All six people whose jobs are going do different things.
First, in mid-November, we had a number of people come to do discovery, to lay out the mapping of the jobs, what the jobs are, what they entail, how they’re done. Then, in December, the people who are going to be doing the jobs, or will be training the people in India who will be doing the jobs, came for 3-5 weeks. There were four the first time, and four or five of them the second time.
They’re all very young - the average age is, I’d say, 23. The project manager I have less interaction with, she’s early 30s, but the others are young. They actually are pretty rural. I don’t know what level of education they have, but none of them has a car or can drive, most of them live at home with their families, and at least one had the equivalent of a CPA. I’m guessing that some might have college degrees, but I don’t know.
They speak great English. Their written English is kinda stilted, but it’s far better than my Hindi will ever be. All they do is work. They’re staying in a Residence Inn or something somewhere outside of midtown, and every morning they show up at The Bee, then work with us the whole day, then they stay until 7 or 8 at night, after we’ve left, and then they cab back to the hotel. And I have the distinct impression that they work until they go to sleep. This group has been here for five weeks, and one or two weekends they may have gotten out to SF or Tahoe, but mostly, they work. I don’t know how much they’ll make for doing our jobs in India.
It’s frustrating, there are communication issues. They’re exceedingly polite, and totally avoid conflict, which is a cultural thing. There are times when you have to push them, and often, you have to stop and say, “Repeat what I just told you.” Because they’ll act as though they understand, even if they don’t. But they’re really nice kids, and work really hard.
At some point, there’s going to be some sort of anger about it, but at this point, we’re still working. I’m certainly not mad at the kids from India, this is probably the best chance they’ve had for a job, and it’s not their fault that it’s taking my job away. And realistically, it’s not my bosses’ fault either, I think my boss feels terrible about it. One of the people who is being replaced has been there more than 40 years. I’ve been there 18. Someone else has been there 26.
So, who do you get angry at? I haven’t really figured that out yet. It’s bad that it has to happen during the worst economy in 60 years, but it’s just one of those things. It’s just the way America works now. The people who make bad decisions that effect hundreds or thousands of lives pay no price at all for making those decisions. For all the talk of the “culture of responsibility,” we’re at the point where you can do everything right and potentially lose everything. And you can make disastrous decisions and retire with a $30 million golden parachute.
There have been times in the past when I thought I could work somewhere else and get paid more, but I like living and working downtown, and The Bee’s been here for 150 years. I figured that if I got to work every day and did a good job, I’d retire comfortably. Now we’re at the point where, is anyone’s job safe? I don’t know this for a fact, but if this outsourcing is successful, other things at The Bee that can be outsourced, will be outsourced.
They’ve outsourced circulation customer service, they’ve outsourced the classified phone bank, and now us. Which is funny, because the thing we had that craigslist didn’t have was really good customer service. So what did we do to compete with craigslist? We gave away customer service! To me, that doesn’t make a whole lotta sense.
Supposedly, March 1 will be the date we turn everything over. The people go back to India, they ramp up and start doing more and more of the work, and then I’m checking it to make sure it’s alright from my side, and then I’m out of a job. In a really horrible economy. But I can collect unemployment, I have skills, and they’re giving us severance packages. But I never thought I’d have to look for work.
And the sad part is, I believe in newspapers. I believe that there’s a good reason why freedom of the press is in the First Amendment and the right to bear arms is in the Second. I believe in media telling the truth to power. And watching the industry sink is really sad. As much as I love Huffington Post and Real Clear Politics, I take with a grain of salt everything I read on the web. I don’t see how websites can compete with real newspapers doing real journalism. Maybe it’s the permanency of ink: It’s real. If you put it on your blog and it’s wrong, you delete it and it’s like it was never said. I don’t know if the effort to get it right is there in electronic media the way it is, or was, in print media.
But I guess we’ll see.