Journatic claims it was about to fire editorial head who resigned

In an apparent attempt to neutralize a high-level critic, Journatic is now claiming it was about to fire an editorial executive who resigned from the company Saturday.

The resignation of Mike Fourcher, who worked at Journatic for only 10 weeks, is the latest sign of increasing trouble at the company, which provides brief stories for Hearst-owned news organizations, Tribune properties, and until recently for the Chicago Sun-Times and GateHouse, which both said they ended their contracts with the company.

After discovering that a Journatic writer had plagiarized a story, Tribune announced Friday night that it would suspend work with the company, though it is an investor and laid off about 20 journalists in April when it shifted responsibility to Journatic for its TribLocal suburban websites.

It was Fourcher who dealt directly with the Tribune when it was discovered that writer Luke Campbell had taken material from a Patch site and a Chicago Sun-Times hyperlocal suburban site, Fourcher told me by phone. It was Fourcher, along with another editor, who discussed the incident with Campbell and subsequently fired him, Fourcher said. And it was Fourcher who briefed CEO Brian Timpone on the firing Friday afternoon, he said.

Fourcher spoke again with Timpone Friday evening, when the CEO explained that Tribune would be suspending work with Journatic. At the time, Timpone did not know whether that suspension would be only for TribLocal or all Tribune properties, Fourcher said. Timpone later emailed Fourcher to say he’d provide more information the next morning, according to Fourcher.

But Saturday morning, Fourcher resigned by email. Timpone replied and asked Fourcher for “the courtesy of a phone call.” Timpone also left a voice mail for Fourcher, which I heard. The message did not suggest Timpone had been about to fire Foucher, instead it was a request for information about Fourcher’s decision to resign.

Despite multiple opportunities Friday afternoon and evening to discipline Fourcher, Timpone instead entrusted him with confidential information about the company’s future, according to Fourcher.

But in a statement sent just before 8 p.m. Saturday, Journatic spokesperson Kendra Thornton said on behalf of the company that it had planned to fire Fourcher:

“When we discovered that plagiarism had occurred this week under Mike’s watch we made a decision to terminate him. He resigned before we could do so. His characterization of his departure is entirely inaccurate.”

The company declined to answer specific questions about the intent to fire Fourcher, saying it doesn’t discuss the deliberations that go into personnel decisions.

Chicago Sun-Times reporters Tina Sfondeles and Kim Janssen describe their attempt Saturday to ask Timpone about Fourcher’s resignation and about Journatic.

Timpone wasn’t keen to discuss the latest criticisms of his business on Saturday afternoon, when the Sun-Times found him outside his home on a leafy River Forest block, leaning into a pal’s Maserati.

“Don’t you know your CEO is an investor with us?” Timpone asked a reporter, referring to Sun-Times CEO Tim Knight. Knight said in a statement Saturday: “I received back my entire investment in Journatic when Tribune Co. completed its deal with the company. My remaining holdings amount to about 1% of the company.”

Asked how he could restore Journatic’s damaged credibility, Timpone said, “There’s so much going on right now, I’ll have to decline … one day I’ll sit down and tell you the whole story.”

Offered a chance to tell a reporter the whole story there and then, Timpone said, “You’re not here for the real story — come on, you know you’re not.”

A woman who emerged from his home in sportswear then exclaimed, “Make sure you describe my tennis outfit!”

It was brilliant white and navy blue.

In a phone interview Saturday morning about Journatic’s problems, Fourcher said, “What we’re seeing is the result of a misguided set of priorities. Writers and editors are implicitly discouraged from doing high quality work for the sake of efficiency and making more money.”

Fourcher says his biggest regret is not quitting sooner.

Related: Tribune newsroom takes over TribLocal work done by Journatic | Journatic memo to staff says, ‘DO NOT LIE ABOUT YOUR NAME’ | How Chicago Tribune discovered Journatic plagiarism

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  • Niran Babalola

    It looks like the Sun-Times removed the tennis outfit part from the story. That was my favorite part.

  • Lea Roderick

    I cannot even believe he said “Don’t you know your CEO is an investor with us?” when the CEO already sold his shares & Timpone obviously knew he was NOT an investor (a CEO of the sun times is a major name – Timpone knew he was lying).  So – first he lies.  Then, he expects special treatment (from his lie) – as if they cannot ask him any hard questions now?

    The Tribune is a big investor with them, and they dropped them.  People are going to be dropping Timpone left & right because he is clearly a liar and has no ethics – forgetting the fact that it’s just an awful company.  You cannot work with someone who has no integrity for very long – the relationship is built on a false pretense, and now people are seeing behind the curtain.  Also, if you look up info about Timpone even briefly – there are so many complaints about him online (Blockshopper in particular – where he won’t let people take their private information off his site).  He was even sued by Jones Day (huge law firm)!  This is who people want to do business with?  

    Fortunately, he left that voice mail to make it clear he is STILL lying – now about Fourcher.  Isn’t anyone concerned that a person in control of news (local now – but surely expanding if he had his way) is such a liar with questionable ethics?  And worse, he appears to be charismatic enough to charm away the Sun Times reporters and to convince senior media execs to invest huge sums of in his (questionable at best) business venture.