Hack for Hire

By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, June 3, 2007

THIS JUST IN:

The publisher of an online newspaper in California has hired two reporters in India to cover meetings of the Pasadena City Council. The outsourced reporters are going to watch Internet broadcasts of the meetings and then file their stories by e-mail. English is an official language of India.

"A lot of the routine stuff we do can be done by really talented people in another time zone at much lower wages," the publisher, James Macpherson, told the Los Angeles Times. Macpherson used to run a clothing business with manufacturing help from Vietnam and India.

What a prudent financial idea! Who says you need to be near the news to cover the news? Or that you need to know anything about the culture you are covering? Come to think of it, why should the outsourcing of journalism be a one-way street?

I have just viewed a Webcast of a recent meeting of the local legislature of Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India. Here is my account of the meeting, which I am offering for sale to India's 50,000 newspapers at the surprisingly affordable price of 80 rupees, or about two bucks, apiece. Just try to get some journalist in Mumbai to work for that.

CHENNAI, INDIA -- A man whose name is, I swear, "Somnath Chatterjee," addressed the state legislature here today. Mr. Chatterjee was introduced as the leader of the "Lok Sabha," which is evidently some sort of important national lawmaking body about which few details are available at this time.

Mr. Chatterjee is apparently in ill health, as he arrived surrounded by attendants in white hospital garb. However, he proved hale enough to mount the podium, where he delivered a lengthy speech in praise of an elderly, revered local government official whose name sounds something like "Dr. K. Haminahamina," a name that, unfortunately, didn't get any Google hits. But it's got to be pretty close.

Mr. Chatterjee's speech was interrupted many times by the sound of antelopes thundering by, which turned out to be people thumping their palms on their desks. This seems to be a local version of applause, a fact that became apparent as the camera panned the audience, and HOLY COW, wait a minute -- everybody's wearing all white, head to toe! This is like a convention of Good Humor men. So, Mr. Chatterjee might not be that sick, after all.

Mr. Chatterjee said that Dr. Haminahamina is known for his "sagacity" and his "compassion" and for his policies about "comic elopement," which, this reporter eventually discovered is "economic development," pronounced all singsongy, with peculiar vowel stresses: "e-CON-omic devel-OPE-ment." I swear. This guy Chatterjee is a hoot.

After Mr. Chatterjee spoke, Dr. Haminahamina took the floor, and what followed was very embarrassing indeed. The beloved Dr. Haminahamina is quite old and apparently senile, because, right away, he began to babble unintelligibly, and everyone started laughing at him! Finally, this reporter determined that Dr. Haminahamina was actually speaking another language altogether, and was apparently making some very good jokes. One of them sounded something like, "Ellam koo vena kam!" It killed.

It was not immediately evident what Dr. Haminahamina's points were, but he yammered on for quite a while, through many fast-forwards, until, finally, he stopped, and the desk-thumping resumed. Another guy in white arrived with an enormous colorful silk tablecloth. An apparently horrified Mr. Chatterjee put his palms together in prayer and bowed his head meekly, but it was to no avail, as the tablecloth was draped over him, anyway.

Suddenly, everyone fell silent. The room filled with the sound of Alvin and the Chipmunks, who are evidently big here. Wait. This reporter's wife just said it was a recording of some sort of anthem, which I concede is also possible.

Next week: The Wuhan province in China issues its quarterly agricultural report. My fee is negotiable in U.S. dollars or yuan.

* The cartoon says, in Hindi, "American idiot writer Mr. Weingarten makes stereotypes again in the newspaper."

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is weingarten@washpost.com.

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