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.