In a note to staff and in a story published on the paper’s website, the Chicago Tribune announced it is resuming work with Journatic after suspending relations following a range of ethical breaches at the Tribune and other publications.
The Tribune will use Journatic for listings, but not reported stories, according to the messages from Editor and Senior Vice President Gerould Kern and Chicago Tribune Media Group President Vince Casanova. Those listings — usually “submitted or distributed by community organizations, local government and other groups” — include “park district programs to village meeting agendas to youth sports scores” and will be copy edited by the Tribune to verify their accuracy.
The Tribune, an investor in Journatic, suspended work with them in July after discovering plagiarism and fabrication in a story published for TribLocal, a hyperlocal news network serving Chicago neighborhoods and suburbs. Prior to that discovery, “This American Life” revealed that Journatic used fake bylines and took other ethical shortcuts.
The Chicago Sun-Times and GateHouse end their relationships with Journatic around the same time.
At the time of the suspension, Kern told Poynter by email, “Journatic’s breaches are disturbing and inexcusable. I believe the changes required to remedy this situation will be profound.”
Thursday’s messages describe those changes and the results of an internal review.
“After checking more than 400 stories, no other instances of plagiarism or fabrication were found beyond the initial case, which was discovered prior to this review. We found other instances of poor reporting practices such as lack of attribution, and we reported them to Journatic,” writes Casanova.
The Tribune laid off about 20 journalists and reassigned others when it contracted with Journatic for TribLocal; during the suspension, the Trib brought that work back to the newsroom, where it will remain.
The memos provide a bit more detail:
I am sharing with you Vince’s note to managers about our review of Journatic’s practices and our plans for producing TribLocal.
We hold ourselves to high ethical and professional standards. When we make mistakes, we correct them and we make every effort to prevent them from recurring.
As you may recall, Tribune Company invested in Journatic, a vendor of community news, to support our hyper-local news effort in print and online. Last spring, Journatic took over production of TribLocal’s print editions and web sites.
When ethical breaches surfaced in July in some Journatic news stories supplied to TribLocal, we suspended use and said we would not resume until we could be certain that our standards would be met.
Chief among these standards are the accuracy, reliability and professionalism of our news reporting.
Over the past five months, as Vince notes, we conducted a review of Journatic’s practices and our procedures for producing TribLocal. That review was thorough, and many changes were made. Let me underscore some of the most important.
- The Chicago Tribune newsroom will maintain full responsibility for all news content in TribLocal, as it has since July. All news reporting will be supervised, assigned, edited and cleared for publication by newsroom editors utilizing staff reporters, freelance writers and other resources. Journatic will not provide this kind of reporting.
- Journatic will provide us with listings and other informational items submitted or distributed by community organizations, local government and other groups in areas served by TribLocal. These items range from park district programs to village meeting agendas to youth sports scores. In the past, much of this was called “user generated content,” and we published a lot of it. This will be useful in supporting dozens of TribLocal web sites.
- New quality control measures have been put in place to ensure accuracy and reliability. For instance, an independent copy-editing process directed by the Tribune will check Journatic’s community listings against the original source material before publication.
The Chicago Tribune newsroom is focused on investigative reporting, local news, opinion leadership and broad coverage of arts, entertainment, sports, business and issues impacting the Chicago region and the nation as a whole.
We believe hyper-local news is important to our readers and that it represents a potential growth area for us. In order to succeed, we must effectively gather granular news at the community level. We want to accomplish this without diverting time, energy and resources from our core mission. Acquiring community listings and information in this way makes sense if it can meet our standards.
I appreciate your patience and dedication.
As you know, last July we suspended use of Journatic after breakdowns in journalistic practices were discovered in some stories supplied to TribLocal. We hired Randy Weissman, a 44-year newsroom veteran, to review controls at Journatic and to recommend improvements to their procedures. Today, I want to tell you about the findings of our review and our plans for TribLocal going forward.
We have completed our review. After checking more than 400 stories, no other instances of plagiarism or fabrication were found beyond the initial case, which was discovered prior to this review. We found other instances of poor reporting practices such as lack of attribution, and we reported them to Journatic.
Journatic has since made several improvements to their controls, some on their own, and some based on our suggestions. These improvements include:
o Appointing editorial leadership to improve quality control. Journatic has made two important additions to its staff. Hanke Gratteau, a former Chicago Tribune managing editor, is joining Journatic as a consultant and senior advisor for editorial. She’ll serve as a liaison between Tribune and Journatic. Jeremy Pafford was promoted to editorial operations manager. He spent his career in community news, and prior to joining Journatic this summer was most recently running editorial for Houston Community Newspapers.
o Adopting a new ethics policy and distributing it to all Journatic personnel. We reviewed the policy and believe it will establish a stronger foundation for Journatic’s editorial practices.
o Improving process controls and transparency. Journatic established a system that provides its clients with greater visibility into its editorial production process, including access to source information.
- The newsroom will maintain control over all content and decision-making for TribLocal print editions and web sites, including assigning, supervising and editing all reporting. All “reported” stories will be the responsibility of our newsroom. TribLocal will be handled like other sections of our newspaper.
- We will resume use of Journatic to collect and prepare hyper-local listings and informational items issued by community organizations in areas served by TribLocal. This content is valuable to our hyper-local effort.
- Important quality control measures have been developed, including an independent copy editing process that will check this community content against the original source material for accuracy before publication, utilizing the new system that Journatic put in place.
Community news is important to readers, and we believe this approach is a cost-effective way to provide this type of news content on the scale required to support hyper-local media. We’re confident that these procedures and controls will ensure that our content meets standards and TribLocal will be able to provide valuable information to readers.