GateHouse to end outsourcing relationship with Journatic

The Tribune Company has gotten most of the media’s attention lately for working with Journatic. They’ve even launched an internal investigation into the content provider. But as Brian Timpone told us, Journatic works with many more news companies. According to him, they number in the dozens.

One such company is GateHouse, though they will not be a Journatic customer for much longer. I spoke on the phone with David Arkin, the Vice President of Content & Audience, to learn more about GateHouse’s experience with Journatic and why it’s coming to an end.

GateHouse signed on with Journatic in May of 2011. Arkin said he doesn’t remember how they found out about the company, but they were curious to see what they could do.

“We were intrigued by them, because they could produce content that was very process-oriented, like gathering honor rolls and police blotters,” he said.

If this sounds eerily similar, it’s because Journatic CEO Brian Timpone has said the same thing time and time again. The value proposition is that Journatic will do the nitty gritty work so that journalists are free to focus on weightier stories. Arkin echoed this when he said, “I don’t think anyone gets into journalism to post events and lunch menus.”

GateHouse began to use Journatic content in 28 daily and weekly newspapers in New York, Illinois, Delaware, Michigan, Ohio and Connecticut.

I asked Arkin if the deeper, more meaningful journalism materialized in the wake of the Journatic deal. Not really, he said. Not as much as it should have.

By email Arkin followed up:

One of the reasons we weren’t able to turn around as much enterprise content as we would have liked: We were spending a lot of time at the local level, looking over what Journatic was posting and still having to manage the content too much, which didn’t allow us to put as much time into enterprise reporting as we would have liked. We were doing content quality control checks and flagging issues.

GateHouse also had layoffs when Journatic came aboard, much like the Tribune Company. Arkin declined to say how many though some clues can be found in this report.

Hoping to yet do better journalism by freeing up local reporters more, GateHouse is now in the process of setting up an in-house centralized content hub in Rockford, Ill. A team of 10 content providers will do work like what Journatic was doing, but they will be full-time, salaried GateHouse employees.

Customization will be key, Arkin said. By having this done inside the company, there will be a much more personalized approach with each GateHouse publication. “We’re doing a lot of surveying with the various editors now at all the papers to ask what exactly they need,” Arkin said.

One of the problems with Journatic was that it was a one-size-fits-all approach and not all the content produced was usable or needed at each publication. “Content selection,” as Arkin put it, was also an issue. Stories were sometimes about not quite the right topics or off base in terms of relevancy.

Timeliness was also a problem. By the time Journatic did an item on a city council meeting, it was often already reported on by a paper’s staffers. Ultimately, Arkin said, GateHouse moved Journatic away from doing that sort of content. The content producers in Rockford won’t be writing local government stories either. “They will focus on community content like re-writing press releases, news and feature briefs, calendar items and submitted news like school news,” Arkin said by email. He says they will focus exclusively on process-oriented work and write nothing longer than a brief.

To determine if their staff would be able to handle Journatic’s workload, GateHouse did a test at one of their Journatic papers and at one where Journatic was not providing content. He said they were able to match Journatic’s output at cost. In fact, though he declined to discuss specific figures, the in-house content hub will cost GateHouse less than the deal with Journatic.

Ultimately, Arkin was positive about GateHouse’s experience with Journatic.

“I think they are a good company and we got a lot out of our partnership with them,” he said.

However, “there is a fundamental difference between a large, metro daily like the Tribune and community newspapers that have been around for 100 years. I think there’s a different expectation.”

Arkin said that it’s one thing for the TribLocal to go into a new coverage area and start producing content through a vendor like Journatic. It’s quite another for a newspaper which has been in a community for a long time to do the same.

GateHouse will continue to work with Journatic through the end of August, then the new content hub in Rockford formally takes over.

Anna Tarkov is an independent journalist based in the Chicago area where she lives with her husband and baby boy. Getting her start in media by writing a popular blog about former Mayor Richard M. Daley, she went on to eventually work with the Chicago Tribune, Time Out Chicago and others.

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  • http://twitter.com/NNVC_fraud Bob Wheeler

    Oh well, now the second leg of the stool is gone. A bit surprised that the Trib would trashcan using a company that they own a third of, but the work is so bad they are left with no choice. Glad to see some good reporters were interested enough to do legwork on this story. Not much sympathy for the others.

    The Houston Chronicle was tipped off to an instance of plagiarism in one of its Journatic articles back in November, but did next to nothing about it. Details on that one should come out soon. Then it’s bye-bye, Chron.

  • nobody here

    What people need to realize is that Brian Timpone is the epitome of a sociopath. I have had many dealings with him – and he has the charisma/charm of a sociopath but absolutely no morals or ethics whatsoever.  He’s a classic case – and he’s the son of a disbarred IL attorney Leonard T Timpone (look it up – the behavior that led to his disbarment is unbelievable – he invades everyone else’s privacy so there’s some info on him!  Besides, it’s 100% public.).  So, the apple does not fall far from the tree (genetically and behaviorally).  He is a disgrace to journalism with these asian outsourced content mills – and what he started with Blockshopper was never ever journalism.  It was just done with an intent to get ad revenue from people’s nosy behaviors.  If I google you and your home price comes up, naturally I will probably click that.  That’s it.  Timpone claims it helps people figure out if they are being “over taxed” but most of blockshopper’s tax info is wrong and all of that data can be found at the assessor’s office.  Blockshopper does not help anything related to taxes.  It just makes money by exploiting people’s personal property transactions by making sure they come up in a google search.  And, they write often inaccurate stories about the people who do buy homes.

    If you don’t believe me, there are over 200 complaints all over the web about blockshopper from people who have asked Timpone to remove their names / addresses that result in a simple google search (healthcare practitioners in mental health, police offers, stalker victims, you name it) and Timpone does nothing.  You can see many complaints on the consumer affairs website, but Timpone doesn’t care.  He just wants the $1 in google click advertising revenue for each “news story” that he lists.  When google serves up blockshopper content like “IT manager buys house for 1 million” when you just type in the name of the IT manager – this can be a huge problem for said manager if he doesn’t want the world to know about his assets or has any other reason to keep his purchases private – but does Timpone care?  No.  He will not take a listing down for ANY reason.  The fact that he convinced major media companies to work with him is shocking and insane to me – but charismatic sociopaths can do anything, so I guess I should not be too shocked.  I’ve dealt with him personally and I know that personality extremely well and he is out of a textbook.  The people who contracted his work are just hitting the tip of the iceberg of what he is – but they are going to have to learn the hard way.  I recommend they read the book Snakes in Suits to see what they are dealing with.  

  • http://annatarkov.posterous.com Anna Tarkov

    Thanks for the comment Marie. I too am saddened that local reporters are considered not worth the expense. To be fair, I think there IS some unevenness in the quality of local reporters, but that’s true in any profession. Not every dentist as as good as the next for example and it doesn’t mean we should eschew their services entirely and go to some guy practicing dentistry in his basement who charges less.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EZKKYJEU7T5VAS4MZ2P7SF7NWM Marie

     Hi Anna:

    I’ve been a local feature reporter for 15 years for the Chicagoland suburbs and I’m digusted by what Journatic is doing. There’s nothing that can truly replace the quality and experience of a community journalist. He or she is the point person for someone in their communities who can contact them about happenings or people who would make a good story. I can’t tell you the many times that I have made contacts with people who remembered me and told me about great ideas. That’s the comfort you want being a local journalist. Of course, you don’t want to be too comfortable because you have to be unbiased and use good judgement.

    You’re not going to get that with Journatic reporters or any kind of checking or editing of information. It’s really a shame that a local reporter is now thought of as an expensive commodity that can be outsources. I think the Tribune is seriously going to regret using Journatic. I think it’s a black eye on its reputation.

  • http://annatarkov.posterous.com Anna Tarkov

    Ryan knew full well what he was getting himself into when he came forward. It’s not like it came as a surprise to him. And for the record, he wasn’t even fired. He got his assignments as usual this week, but decided to resign. Friday will be his last day working for Journatic.

    I promote my stories, because I actually want people to, you know, READ them. I would think you would be glad I’m doing it because it seems like you too want this story to continue getting out. Also, I’m a freelancer and I have to promote my work in order to 1) get more work and 2) let people know what I’m working on so if anyone has any information, they know I’m someone to contact. 

    As it happens, I already had Howard’s name. So thanks, but I don’t need any more advice about pursuing my stories from someone who’s frustrated this isn’t getting reported quickly or accurately, but who also won’t come forward to help the process.

  • http://annatarkov.posterous.com Anna Tarkov

    Ryan knew full well what he was getting himself into when he came forward. It’s not like it came as a surprise to him. And for the record, he wasn’t even fired. He got his assignments as usual this week, but decided to resign. Friday will be his last day working for Journatic.

    I promote my stories, because I actually want people to, you know, READ them. I would think you would be glad I’m doing it because it seems like you too want this story to continue getting out. Also, I’m a freelancer and I have to promote my work in order to 1) get more work and 2) let people know what I’m working on so if anyone has any information, they know I’m someone to contact. 

    As it happens, I already had Howard’s name. So thanks, but I don’t need any more advice about pursuing my stories from someone who’s frustrated this isn’t getting reported quickly or accurately, but who also won’t come forward to help the process.

  • http://twitter.com/NNVC_fraud Bob Wheeler

    Anna, I’m not going to spoonfeed you this stuff, as you see where it’s led Ryan to – the loss of his job. Ask Ryan how many papers outside of the Hearst/Tribune/GateHouse troika he has seen in the WRUWO list at Journatic, or mentioned in company emails. Ask Timpone who these “dozens” of companies are – he’ll cite “confidentiality” as the reason not to give you any more names, I’m sure. Don’t buy it. 

    Call Houston, talk to Howard Decker at the Chron, ask him how thrilled he is with these clowns. You’ll be lucky to get more than a “no comment” out of him.

    You need to spend less time promoting your stories, and more time pursuing them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Hall/100003322010756 Kevin Hall

    Most of the lists and calendar events that are the bread-and-butter of this alleged service can be accomplished — and some papers do accomplish — more cost-effectively than Journatic.

    We have a list of high school contacts we email every year with a deadline for grad lists, as well as sports scores, school lunch menus and calendar info. The secretary sends the grad list, as example, in the format we specify, and we copy/paste them into the paginated copy block. Takes maybe a half-hour cumulative time for 50-some schools in our coverage area.

    Organizations that want their events published can fill in a format at the website. The automated system sets it up in type size and font format. Our clerks, when they aren’t answering phones etc, verify the contact, then call or email the contact the day before publication to verify the event.

    The only way it would be cheaper to produce is to not verify the information the public provides, which Journatic doesn’t do and is a risk to credibility.

  • http://annatarkov.posterous.com Anna Tarkov

    Bob, do you work for Journatic? I would like to know how you are privy to this. Please send me an email to tooter2 at gmail dot com. Thanks

  • http://twitter.com/NNVC_fraud Bob Wheeler

    First of all, Timpone is the biggest BS machine ever. He says the number of companies they work with are in “the dozens” because he doesn’t want anyone to see what’s behind the curtain. 

    As anyone who works at Journatic knows, there’s basically only three customers right now: Hearst, the Tribune Co., and GateHouse. That’s the three-legged stool. With one leg of that stool (GateHouse) getting sawed off, it’s going to be hard to keep the company afloat.GateHouse has complained for months that the quality of the Journatic work is garbage. The response has been not to do better work, but to produce even more of it. Major fail.

    Meanwhile, similar complaints from the Houston Chronicle have fallen on deaf ears. It’s the next domino to tumble. Don’t be surprised to hear the Chron dropping Journatic in the next few weeks. The radio story gives them the perfect cover. Once Houston is out of the picture, Hearst won’t keep the San Francisco business very long with Journatic, either.

    That leaves the Trib, which is currently pretty ticked that Journatic told them it was ready to take over local news for Tampa, despite not having anyone assigned to do the work (good job, Tommy – BT must be so proud).Management’s response to the tidal wave has not been to actually improve the work, but to spend hours and hours trying to track down the growing number of people leaking info to other news sites. They hardly talk about anything else anymore.

    The end is near as most of the managers are looking for new jobs. If anyone reading this is owed any money by Journatic, I’d get it soon.

  • http://annatarkov.posterous.com Anna Tarkov

    In theory, yes. But news organizations obviously have to have the resources i.e. staff to devote to that. If they’re lean already and they cut when they take on Journatic, it seems to make it very difficult.

  • http://www.nextlevelofnews.com Steffen Konrath

    “I asked Arkin if the deeper, more meaningful journalism materialized in the wake of the Journatic deal.” – Can you imagine a context in which Journatic’s content production does make sense?
    - Steffen Konrath, NextLevelOfNews.com