Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Chron Ships Your Concerns (and Their Journalism) Overseas

Posted By on Wed, Aug 22, 2012 at 7:10 AM

click to enlarge chronicle_mast.jpg

It was almost old news by the time it reached my steps. The Chronicle's delivery person was bringing the newspaper later and later. It slipped back from 6:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. and then 7:45 a.m. -- when I was getting ready to leave for work. One morning I saw the driver launching the paper out his window at 7:30 a.m. and tried to get him to stop, but he must have thought I was just another San Francisco crazy person in sweats and drove away.

The standard in most of the newspaper industry, and at the Chron, is delivery at 6:30 a.m. or before. The print version needs to be in people's hands, along with their coffee, before they leave for work, or forget about them paying that pricey subscription rate -- they'll read it online instead.

So there was nothing left to do but call the hometown paper and put in an official complaint, what my father called a "kick" (he worked as a circulation supervisor for the daily paper in Phoenix). I didn't want to get anyone kicked, but I was paying a lot for on-time delivery: roughly $40 a month.

Calls to any "Customer Service Center" can be maddening and this one was especially so. After the usual computerized voices and punching through numbers, a human eventually answered. I told her the subscription was in my wife's name and gave the address. She kept answering me back with the wrong name and address. I said "Naples Street," she would say "Maple." I would say "Alissa" and she would say "Melissa." She told me my zip code didn't exist. I told her it was in the Excelsior neighborhood and she asked me if that was in the Bay Area. Hmmm. Now I've had San Francisco taxi drivers ask me if the Excelsior was in San Francisco, but she wasn't getting anything right about our subscription -- and she had a slight accent.

I asked her where she was and she answered: in the Philippines.

So the hometown paper is sending our concerns around the world.

She finally concluded my wife and I weren't getting the paper because we weren't in the database. That's funny, I said, the bill always finds its way to our house. And it wasn't that the paper wouldn't get there, it was just late. I asked to talk to her supervisor and she said someone would have to call me back. Why not put me on hold and transfer? She politely declined.

So then I get a call from Hector the Supervisor. He starts by saying I live at 3019 Maples St. and my zip is 94122. Not even close, but that obviously came from their employee in the Philippines. At least Hector said he was in the Bay Area. Our subscription was in his database. The next day the paper started arriving before 7 a.m.

The phrase outsourcing of jobs doesn't tell the story. Corporations like the Chronicle's parent Hearst are in-sourcing millions of our dollars and yet sending hundreds of jobs across seas. But why would the Hearst Corp. risk losing customers with this unprofessional service? Was this a way to apologize to the Philippines for William Randolph Heart's yellow journalism starting the Spanish Civil War and the invasion of Manila? Nope, this was an elimination of that nasty problem of adequate pay and benefits. Some ambitious Hearst executive promoted the overseas call center idea with its $5,000 annual pay, and woosh, away go the jobs. But that move also cut service. I know I lost respect for the Chron's business practices with that confusing call. In this era of declining daily newspaper subscriptions, is it worth it?

Believe me when I say I know the financial pressures on the news media. We have suffered through layoffs here, but I would never recommend sending jobs overseas to help save the company. Especially during a brutal, ongoing recession.

Apparently some of you agree that this type of outsourcing should stop. The Communication Workers of America did some research and found 78 percent of registered voters across the nation had negative feelings about overseas outsourcing of customer calls.

The Chronicle is also using an overseas content factory that was caught fabricating bylines on the stories in their paper. They use content farm Blockshopper (which is owned by Journatic) and they pay people overseas a reported $2 to $12 for a real estate story about the Bay Area, then make up a byline to accompany it so you think there's someone local writing the story. In other words, they lied about where the story came from. The Chronicle's editor and publisher say they'll try to prevent the false bylines, but they're sticking with BlockShopper because it saves dollars. So apparently lying isn't enough to get fired at the Chron, or perhaps only if you are a local editorial worker.

What to do? I think a boycott could be in order. You could call the paper to protest this outsourcing of local jobs overseas. Just hope you will be able to talk to someone in the Bay Area who understands your frustration.

Tom Walsh is the Editor of SF Weekly

Follow us on Twitter at @SFWeekly and @TheSnitchSF

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