Online Newspaper will use CIA-style practices: "You don’t have a right to privacy."
2010-05-10 0:00

By James DeTar |

The publisher/editor of online-only newspaper Pasadena Now says he’s “dabbling” in the use of some of the practices that spy agencies like the CIA use to gather data.

James Macpherson gained national recognition and a bit of notoriety in some quarters of the media community when he started outsourcing news gathering to India in May 2007.

He uses local news gatherers in Pasadena, Calif., to write up the basic facts of a story. He sends that material to reporters in India who write it in newspaper story format and send it back. Macpherson does final editing before the stories go online.

“I’ve been using a reverse foreign desk,” Macpherson said. “People I’ve outsourced to overseas are covering Pasadena news.”

Macpherson says this saves money and that highly skilled Indian journalists are doing a good job of writing stories about doings in Pasadena.

Now he plans this year to start using data-mining software similar to what the CIA uses, as a new type of news-gathering tool.

“In the old days, it was newspapers as detectives. Today it has to be newspapers as intelligence agencies,” Macpherson told IBD. “I want to drill down into hot topics. I can do so and cover a lot of ground this way.

“What I’m talking about is an automated systematic software system we’re developing that’s pulled right from the pages of the CIA and NSA (National Security Agency).”

Inevitably, he says, some have said, “You’re talking about invading private conversations and getting information off of Facebook.” Macpherson says he will only gather public information and “people are raising a lot of issues about privacy on the Internet. But in my opinion, unless you take steps to protect your privacy, you don’t have a right to privacy.”

Macpherson says he’s been in touch with members of the intelligence community, to get their feedback.

Their reaction? “Some of the people in the intelligence community acted like: Wow, you mean no one has done this before?” he said.

Macpherson expects to have the system running in six months. He says that although he’s not involved directly in creating the custom software, he thinks other newspapers will adopt it.

“Newspapers have to live on less these days,” Macpherson said. “Online media have an even tougher time of it. The question is: How to be fast and do it with a lot less money than (print) newspapers?”

Macpherson says he’s talked to a few reporters about his plans and the reaction was similar to when he started outsourcing news story writing. “Some of the reporters I’ve talked to have laughed at me,” he said.

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