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A penny for my thoughts. Maybe even less?

Using the Internet to cut costs, James Macpherson's outsourcing gambit looks a lot less crazy than it seemed to many a year ago

More than a year ago, Pasadena Now's editor and publisher, James Macpherson, caused a minor media stir after hiring a couple of reporters in India to write up the Webcast meetings of the local city council for his online newspaper

Newspaper and keyboard

In the year-plus since his decision, many of Macpherson's peers have had an increasingly hard time of it. (In a speech delivered earlier this month, Rupert Murdoch warned of even worse times ahead -- in no small part because of the emergence of the Internet and the haphazard way in which publishers have responded to the shift in technology.)

I haven't kept up with Pasadena Now. But in Sunday's New York Times, Maureen Dowd writes up her interview with Macpherson, who has now outsourced the work formerly done by the seven Pasadena staffers he fired.

"Everyone has to get ready for what's inevitable -- like King Canute and the tide coming in -- and that's really my message to the industry," the editor and publisher said. "Many newspapers are dead men walking. They're going to be replaced by smaller, nimbler, multiple Internet-centric kinds of things such as what I'm pioneering...I have essentially been five years ahead of the world for a long time, and that's a horrible address at which to live because people look at you, you know, like you're nuts."

He's not nuts. But I wonder whether he's addressing the symptom instead of the cause. Part (most?) of the turmoil in the industry is a function of the loss of trust, as Murdoch noted in his speech, at the same time that there are now a multiplicity of alternative, trusted sources of information.

Ignoring users has exacted an unfortunately high price, something Dave Winer correctly noted in a recent post:

Listening is hard. But all people who create products for users must listen if they want to do well at making products. That includes doctors, bus drivers, mailmen, entrepreneurs, programmers, and yes, reporters and editors too. Because if you don't listen you might miss a corner-turn and end up going off a cliff, just like the news industry is doing. They see the cliff, they know they're headed for it, but they don't ask how to turn the car. They don't really want to know. I think sometimes what they want is to be missed when they lie dead in a crumpled car at the bottom of the cliff. But we don't want that to happen. Not because we love them, but because life without them is pretty hard to imagine. They should turn the corner, no matter how painful it is. But in order to do it, they're going to have to look out the front window and the mirrors and listen to the person in the passenger seat.

How long will it take for them (us?) to get it? Beats me. CNN's experiment with user-generated reporting is going through predictable growing pains. It's an encouraging harbinger but I'm reserving judgment until the likes of the Times and The Wall Street Journal offer something similar.

As if the industry needed another sign how quickly times are changing, the lightning speed with which information about the Mumbai attacks was tweeted (and "retweeted") should serve as the catalyst for creative thinking about the future.