Journatic made ‘very poor decisions’ about content, say Aggrego founders

Chicago Sun-Times owner Wrapports LLC announced this week that it has launched a service called Aggrego, its own version of the troubled local news service Journatic, Lynne Marek reported in Crain’s Chicago Business Tuesday.

Aggrego CEO Tim Landon made an early investment in Journatic, Wrapports CEO Tim Knight told Poynter in a phone call, but “they had some disagreements about how to drive the team,” he said.

“I fundamentally disagreed with Journatic’s management’s approach to the content and operating model,” said Landon, who was also on the call. “I do believe in data and big data, but that’s not enough.”

Journatic made structural mistakes, Landon said, “then you layer on top of that very poor decisions that were made in terms of managing content and integrity and managing third parties.” Landon and his partners sold “most/all” of their investment in Journatic to Tribune, Wrapports says. Read more


Executive: Journatic’s standards ‘match or even exceed’ those of other news orgs

Street Fight

Hanke Gratteau, Journatic’s vice president of media services, talks about the news organization, which published stories under fake bylines at many newspapers, including The Chicago Tribune. The Tribune announced last December it would resume working with the company on a limited basis.

Stories about Journatic’s journalistic foibles “relied on twisted facts and half-truths,” Gratteau says.

Last summer, there was one instance of plagiarism — and that reporter was fired. That was terrible and a breach of trust with our readers and our client. But again, that reporter was fired. Major publications around the nation have faced similar charges, and they have not been pilloried in the way we were.

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Chicago Tribune resumes work with Journatic after 5-month suspension

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. Read more


AP promises members it won’t break news on social media

Associated Press
At the Associated Press Media Editors confab in Nashville, Tenn., AP Executive Editor and Senior Vice President Kathleen Carroll promised the service’s users it wouldn’t scoop them:

“You all pay us a chunk of change to break news to you, and so we do,” she said. “And once it’s broken to you, we promote it on the social networks.”

This isn’t a new policy for the news co-op: Last year it admonished staffers who tweeted about the arrest of an AP reporter and photographer at an Occupy protest before the news hit the wire. It’s the first time I’ve heard it expressed in business terms, though. Read more

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Chicago Tribune combines local editions as Journatic suspension continues

Crain’s Chicago Business
The Chicago Tribune has cut the number of its local editions by “about half” since suspending work with journalism-outsourcing company Journatic, Lynne Marek reports. “For instance, coverage of Evanston formerly appeared in a single edition of its own, but is now part of a broader North Shore edition,” she writes.

The paper announced in April it was investing in and hiring Journatic to produce its 22 local editions and cutting about 20 jobs from its TribLocal staff. Read more


Report: Journatic lays off staff

Anna Tarkov
Journalism-outsourcing company Journatic has laid off an unspecified number of full-time staffers, according to Anna Tarkov. A source tells her that Jeremy Pafford gave employees the news. “The reason given was that the workload has decreased significantly and the company is restructuring,” Tarkov writes. All independent contractors have been let go too, Tarkov writes.

Before his stint as Journatic deputy production director, according to his LinkedIn profile, Pafford worked for five years for the Houston Community Newspapers, whose clients include the Hearst-owned Houston Chronicle, which works with Journatic.

The Houston Chronicle is reviewing Journatic’s work after learning it used fake bylines on hundreds of stories published on the Chronicle’s behalf. The Hearst-owned San Francisco Chronicle says it too is reviewing Journatic’s work. Read more


Report: Daily Press removes Journatic bylines, but stories remain

Williamsburg Yorktown Daily
The Tribune-owned Daily Press in Newport News, Va., has removed evidence of Journatic’s involvement in content on its local sites, Desiree Parker reports. That follows Parker’s earlier report that a Journatic writer with the byline Mike Moreau muffed a fact about a city council meeting, and that another with the byline Austin Prickett had bylines in Delaware and Ohio as well as in Virginia on July 3.

Now, Parker writes, the bylines are gone. But the content remains:

Inside Williamsburg, a Virginia Gazette online product, and Inside York County, a Daily Press online product, are filled with content supplied by Journatic writers whose bylines appear on hyperlocal news stories all over the U.S. The writers’ names appeared under each Williamsburg and York County article when WYDaily ran its story; the following week, those bylines had disappeared, but the content remained the same.

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Chicago Tribune staffers: Relationship with Journatic ‘threatens to jeopardize our credibility’

Chicago Sun-Times
In a letter delivered to Chicago Tribune Editor Gerould W. Kern Thursday, staffers outline Journatic’s documented journalistic sins — including plagiarism and use of fake bylines — then ask why the Tribune is “seeking to salvage its relationship with Journatic when as a matter of policy it declares zero tolerance for such behavior?” Kim Janssen reports:

The letter, delivered to Kern Thursday morning, refers to other incidents of plagiarism and false bylines at other Journatic clients, including the Houston Chronicle, and says “repeated incidents of false bylines and false datelines, along with plagiarism, have been exposed at several Journatic clients.” The Tribune suspended the use of Journatic following the discovery of the plagiarized article earlier this month.

The journalists know Kern shares “our concerns about the Tribune’s credibility,” they write.

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The hard truths of hyperlocal journalism reveal themselves in Journatic trouble

It’s become clear that Journatic has some problems: Using incorrect or fictional bylines, plus plagiarism and fabrication of news.

But what if it didn’t?

Could Journatic’s model of cost-efficient outsourced journalism offer a viable future for hyperlocal news? If its ethics and standards of quality were exemplary, would it otherwise serve a community’s needs?

Most signs say: no.

You can’t be hyperlocal while hyperdistant

Journatic founder Brian Timpone told Poynter in April that “being based in the community is not beneficial” to local journalism.

But when I look around at hyperlocal success stories, many are driven by the will and personal commitment of a local individual. The Batavian is Howard Owens. Tracy Record is West Seattle Blog. That’s not to say others don’t contribute, but the sites wouldn’t exist or sustain themselves without individual dedication. Read more


Tribune brings on consultant to work with Journatic, ‘profound’ changes required

One week after suspending its work with Journatic, the Chicago Tribune has enlisted Randy Weissman, a longtime former employee, to consult with the outsourcing company on its processes and standards.

The Tribune suspended work with Journatic after revelations that the company had published stories with fake bylines and that a writer there had plagiarized a story on TribLocal, the network of suburban papers and hyperlocal websites Journatic published on behalf of Tribune.

Tribune editor and vice president Gerould W. Kern said by email:

The suspension remains in force and is indefinite. We are not using any Journatic news content now in print or online.

There is no timetable — indefinite means what it suggests. Journatic has no control over the length of the suspension or when it might be lifted.

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