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Journalism-outsourcing firm Journatic is under so many reviews it’ll soon need its own Metacritic page. The San Francisco Chronicle is now looking at the company’s work, Emily Lambert reports in Crain’s Chicago Business, joining its Hearst corporate sibling the Houston Chronicle in a critical look at Journatic. Journatic got bad notices at the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and GateHouse, which have suspended or ended their relationships with the company.
The San Fran review can’t come soon enough, writes Rebecca Rosen Lum in FogCityJournal. Carl Hall of the Pacific Media Workers Guild told Lum “This level of deception would get our members fired.”
Any section edited by news staff should be held to the same standards as the rest of the paper, Hall said. Otherwise, lower standards in one part of the paper and its website degrade the entire operation.
“People start wondering if the staffers are real journalists,” Hall said. “They are willfully deceiving readers.”
The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America has also chimed in, calling “for publishers to discontinue using providers that rely on content generated by offshore contributors,” News & Tech reports. Poynter’s Craig Silverman explains why that’s unlikely to change.
Writing in the Guardian, Roy Greenslade makes an interesting argument:
Commercial shortcuts, by their nature, encourage misbehaviour. Why? First, because the enterprise is all about turning a profit and that requires quantity rather than quality.
This claim glosses over the fact that some pretty decent newsgathering has been known to occur in for-profit shops, but Greenslade’s on more solid ground with his second criticism, that outsourcing reporting “is qualitatively different” from outsourcing copy-editing. “Reporters need to have contact with people,” Greenslade writes. “[O]n a regular basis, can a man in Manila really report with any credibility on the problems faced by residents in a Chicago suburb?”
Also writing in the Guardian, original Journatic whistleblower Ryan Smith says “This whole scandal shouldn’t have relied on me going rogue as an inside informant to ‘This American Life‘ to expose [Journatic's] practices.”
Newspapers had a choice when they made their Faustian deal with Journatic. They could have easily utilized reporters on their staffs already skilled at in-depth investigations and digging out corruption in government and discovered the truth behind Journatic.
Instead, newspapers around the country opted for a short-term savings and lost credibility in the process.
And David Strom takes up a question that goes to the heart of Journatic’s business argument: Whether hiring the company to do what Michael Miner memorably called journalism’s “scut work” really leads to better journalism from “real reporters”:
Does Journatic give the traditional press access to data that they have never accessed before, and free up their time to report on more important things? Or is it just another Demand Media play to leverage ever-cheaper content?