Chicago Tribune investigates Journatic’s work

Chicago Tribune | Street Fight
This weekend, “This American Life” ran a story about Journatic freelancer Ryan Smith, who noticed fake bylines as he worked on Journatic’s Blockshopper.com. Tribune is a company investor and recently moved to have Journatic handle its TribLocal content.

Tribune Editor Gerould Kern says, “Publishing stories under false bylines is a violation of the Chicago Tribune’s ethics policy. It has never been acceptable and will not be tolerated. We expect Journatic to adhere to this policy.”

Journatic CEO Brian Timpone tells Trib reporter Robert Channick that using the bylines was a mistake and the company discontinued the practice after “TAL” called while reporting the story. In a Poynter interview with Anna Tarkov published this weekend, Timpone went into some detail about how the bylines wormed their way into the company’s copy:

There were several reasons for the aliases, Timpone explained. In the beginning, showing up in Google News necessitated a byline and since it was only a few editors who assembled the stories from research done in the Philippines, it wouldn’t have made sense to repeat the same names over and over, he said. Also, people complained about BlockShopper stories. They said their privacy was being violated and some even had lawyers contact the site. “I wasn’t going to have some $12 an hour copywriter be harassed by a lawyer,” Timpone said.


Timpone used similar language in an email to Jim Romenesko over the weekend.

Smith pushed back against Timpone on Twitter Monday morning.

Tribune has a few interesting figures about the company:

Journatic employs about 140 overseas contract workers, mostly in the Philippines, who gather information online and then format it for more than 200 U.S.-based writers and editors, including 60 full-time staffers. The foreign freelancers make as little as 35 cents per story item, according to Timpone.

In a post last week before the “TAL” episode aired, Tom Grubisich wrote that Journatic doesn’t deserve the “trash talk” Robert Feder had been laying down about the company. Grubisich points to a couple of articles he’s liked. He writes:

What happens to TribLocal under Journatic needs careful analysis because Journatic is one of the most serious disrupters in the local news media, particularly the digital space, where old and new media are pouring their resources in the pursuit of billions of dollars of ad revenue.

Related: Journatic founder: ‘Being based in the community is not beneficial’ | Miner: Journatic offered to pay employees not to talk to reporters | Journalists debate value of robots

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ERF555TPXX647MJVCEUER3OVOE Randy

    Yeah, I caught that remark about Maywood and how undercovered it is, how it doesn’t have a newspaper… but not only does the West Suburban Journal cover Maywood, it has an office there as well.

    How is TribLocal helping? By not having a Maywood edition at all. Timpone soon to be “sorry” about losing the Tribune’s investment. “It just wormed its way into my pocket,” the Journatic CEO was heard to say.

  • Anonymous

    “Timpone went into some detail about how the bylines wormed their way into the company’s copy”

    Bylines can not worm their way into anything. They are inanimate.
    Someone has to decide to use the fake bylines.
    Using the passive voice allows the perpetrators to shirk responsibility.
    Using the passive voice also prevents the journalist from doing his job of getting to the truth.

  • Anonymous

    “Timpone went into some detail about how the bylines wormed their way into the company’s copy”

    Bylines can not worm their way into anything. They are inanimate.
    Someone has to decide to use the fake bylines.
    Using the passive voice allows the perpetrators to shirk responsibility.
    Using the passive voice also prevents the journalist from doing his job of getting to the truth.

  • Anonymous

    The mistake was using Journatic in the first place. The NPR reporter said at least “they’re hiring,” but of course it is as contractors, for bad pay. TribLocal had real employees.

    More BS from the CEO was to imply that Journatic would have uncovered malfeasance in Dixmoor. Ha. They only go through what is publicly available. Contrary to what he said, they aren’t go to provide indepth coverage of undercovered places like Maywood, IL.