Articles about "Journatic"


How hyperlocal sites handle ‘micro-news’ in their communities

We’ve become familiar with the way Journatic — and the news organizations that outsource to it — are gathering and publishing local “micro-news” like school lunch menus, death notices, high school sports scores and real estate transactions. But we wondered: How else is this information being compiled?

To find out, I checked with some independent, online-only local news publishers. I asked them if they include this sort of content on their sites and how they collect it.

Tracy Record of West Seattle Blog said via email that her site handles this type of news in a variety of ways. High school sports coverage, for instance, is sometimes reported by attending games, or information might be pulled from schools’ websites and Twitter. Not every game can be covered, so Record said they depend on their own judgment and readers’ input to point them to the most newsworthy contests.

West Seattle Blog’s death notices come mostly from families themselves. A professional writer does the crime roundup, but Record stressed that their breaking crime coverage is often far more vital to the community. “When something big happens, we’re there. In person. And we report on it as it unfolds,” she explained.

The Batavian’s Howard Owens, also responding via email, said his site does paid death notices, which are provided by four of the six funeral homes in his site’s coverage area. It’s a self-serve process. The site’s event calendar is populated by Owens’ wife and a freelancer; community members can add events on their own if they register with the site. Announcements and milestones are also gathered by Owens’ wife.

Owens said he would love to have more of this sort of content on the site and has been trying to figure out a way to gather it using local employees.

Paul Bass of the New Haven Independent and Eugene Driscoll of the offshoot Valley Independent Sentinel echoed Record in underscoring the importance of strong contacts within the community to facilitate this type of coverage. Much of the information is uploaded by readers themselves or submitted on Facebook (here’s the Sentinel’s page, for example).

“For us, Facebook is the talking Rolodex,” Driscoll said. “We’re in constant, two-way communication with readers. We’re not the anonymous, omniscient newspaper reporter dropping in on your community and dumping cookie-cutter news stories on you.”

In general, decisions on “micro-news” coverage are made with the community in mind. If the information can be found elsewhere, links will point readers to it. High school sports, for instance, were once covered with freelance help. Eventually it was decided that the money would be better spent on hiring another full-time reporter and now the sites link out to other sources, including, Driscoll said, local blogs.

Other sites, like VTDigger, for instance, publish little to no micro-news. Editor Anne Galloway wrote via email that they have an events calendar for public meetings and hearings, press releases about issues of statewide interest and that’s it. When I asked why they don’t include things like real estate transactions, Galloway replied that it is not relevant to their core mission, which is to provide in-depth and investigative reporting on public policy matters. “We also don’t have the human resources,” she added. “I would prefer to invest in searchable databases of government data instead.”

Perhaps Tracy Record summed up best how sites like hers make decisions on which hyperlocal news to cover: “Most importantly of all: We listen. When readers start to ask about a particular type of thing we hadn’t been covering … that’s a signal to us that it’s time to start covering. But that means you have to have a relationship with the community.”

Related:A good local story is about connection. Connections exist between people” (Dan Haley/ | Outsourcing will be part of journalism’s future (Mathew Ingram/GigaOm) | 5 lessons from Journatic (David Cohn) Read more


San Francisco Chronicle will review Journatic content

Crain’s Chicago Business | | News & Tech | The Guardian | Sys-Con Media
Journalism-outsourcing firm Journatic is under so many reviews it’ll soon need its own Metacritic page. The San Francisco Chronicle is now looking at the company’s work, Emily Lambert reports in Crain’s Chicago Business, joining its Hearst corporate sibling the Houston Chronicle in a critical look at Journatic. Journatic got bad notices at the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and GateHouse, which have suspended or ended their relationships with the company.

The San Fran review can’t come soon enough, writes Rebecca Rosen Lum in FogCityJournal. Carl Hall of the Pacific Media Workers Guild told Lum “This level of deception would get our members fired.”

Any section edited by news staff should be held to the same standards as the rest of the paper, Hall said. Otherwise, lower standards in one part of the paper and its website degrade the entire operation.

Read more

Journatic problems are like lead paint that taint journalism but won’t stop progress

I’m not a Journatic hater.

That may be a minority position among journalists like me who focus on improving the quality of news.

But even as I abhor the plagiarism, fabrication and fake bylines, I also know that no matter how bad the behavior, there will absolutely be more companies like Journatic.

Outsourcing, content farming, Mechanical Turk-like records/data processing — these things are going to increase and find their place within journalism at news organizations large and small.

Journatic’s approach — and the change it represents — is not going away.

That means it’s important for journalism to find ethical, responsible and productive ways to integrate these approaches. To set benchmarks and guidelines for producing quality content using the kind of low-cost labor and mass production techniques that were long ago adopted in manufacturing. To find a better way forward.

Recognize the market forces

“I’m upset because I believe what Journatic was originally conceived to do was a good idea,” Mike Fourcher, who recently resigned as one of the company’s editorial leaders, told Poynter’s Julie Moos this past weekend. “It went off track.”

I agree there are elements of what Journatic was trying to do that make sense and can be valuable to journalism and communities. I also believe they are an inevitable part of journalism’s future:

  • Data. Find a fast and cost-efficient way to grab data that can be mined and made sense of in order to produce information of interest to communities. EveryBlock was the first to show this could work on a local level and be, to a certain extent, replicable across cities. Journatic scaled up the local data scraping approach as a way to discover and process local information. Speaking about the company’s data gathering operation, Fourcher told Moos that “it’s a spectacular system” but Journatic falters when it “begins to go into less quantitative and more qualitative” work. This seemed to happen when the data-driven approach was combined with other factors.
  • Overseas labor. Organizations such as Reuters are already employing people in far away countries at much smaller salaries to help produce certain types of reporting. Journatic’s idea was to use this labor force to perform Mechanical Turk-like tasks in order to help with the processing of the data referenced above. That seems a logical way for a business to utilize less-skilled overseas labor. This is especially true if the cleaned-up data is used in structured formats or provided to writers and editors who can make sense of it and produce reporting. Things have, in part, gone wrong at Journatic because, according to a worker interviewed by “This American Life,” the company also got at least some of these overseas workers to write content. (The qualitative aspect Foucher identified.)
  • Distributed labor. It makes sense to take advantage of the fact that you can recruit and hire writers that live outside of your immediate area. You don’t need to have everyone in a physical newsroom. This is different than outsourcing because it’s a way to source skilled labor. Of course, if you’re trying to deliver local news, you have to account for the fact that this approach has risks. You have to determine which stories can be written from afar, and which must be done by those with local knowledge. And you also need to implement checks and processes that ensure consistent quality. Journatic has been failing on that front with some high-profile customers. These failures come in the form of fake bylines, plagiarism and fabrication, misrepresentation, and content that doesn’t meet basic standards for clarity and accuracy. As GateHouse said about its Journatic stories, “We spent too much time centrally and locally addressing errors with their content.”
  • Mass production. Demand Media popularized the content farm model of using freelancers to execute high volumes of content at a very low price. This was made possible in part because Demand created a formula that writers and editors and videographers could follow. Once they learned the Demand way, they could churn it out. The formula-based approach also provided Demand with the ability to exercise quality control and deliver consistency to clients and readers. Unlike Journatic, Demand also made plagiarism detection part of its workflow.

These inevitabilities are forces in the larger economy and society. They will be part of organizations — including news organizations — because they are simply too important, attractive and potentially useful to ignore. But it’s up to our leaders, managers and workers to establish and enforce quality and standards, to use these opportunities in ways that deliver value to the communities we serve, and to combine them with great storytelling and valuable news and information.

If deployed properly, these changes can help improve the efficiency of content creation.

What an ugly bit of language: “Improve the efficiency of content creation.”

It makes journalism sound like manufacturing.

Which is exactly the point.

Journalism as tainted paint

In 2007, Mattel had to issue a series of recalls for toys that may have been made with lead-tainted paint. Well over 1 million toys were pulled from shelves by the company, affecting legendary brands such as Barbie and Fisher Price.

Now let me rewrite that paragraph in today’s terms.

In 2012, Journatic, a fast growing news and information startup, faced major criticism and business suspension due to use of fake bylines, plagiarism and fabrication, and delivery of undesired content to customers. Major news brands such as the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and GateHouse either ended or suspended their relationships with Journatic. Hearst is reviewing its work in Houston and San Francisco.

Journalists bristle at the idea that some of what they do can be replicated by machines or by cheaper overseas labor. Yes, there are absolutely things we do that can’t be approximated by these operations. I believe that will always be the case. But other things absolutely can and will be. More and more, in fact.

Just as the world of manufacturing continues to grapple with the need to exercise quality control over its offshore suppliers and factories, so too will news organizations that rely on outsourcing for information and news production.

This shift will require constant feedback and perhaps even the creation of new accountability structures to enforce standards and provide meaningful oversight.

The starting point is to establish policies, procedures, and standards to guide outsourced, mass production content operations. Without those safeguards being monitored, enforced and evangelized, there can be no quality control.

The result can be fake bylines spreading from one part of an operation to another; plagiarism and fabrication finding their way into content; workers focused on meeting output quotas, rather than on the content itself, so a local news website published 27 lunch menus in a single day.

That’s tainted product.

No exemptions

When it comes to market dynamics and technology and social trends, journalism is not special. We don’t get an exemption.

We didn’t get an exemption from the digital content disruption that hit the music industry starting in the late 1990s. We didn’t get an exemption from the decline in trust that has hit other institutions in society. We didn’t get a hall pass to skip out on the way the Internet can smash monopolies and disrupt established business models.

We also don’t get an exemption from the economic benefits of outsourcing, the efficiency of applying machines to the processing of information in a data-rich society, or the fact that a distributed-yet-connected labor force enables the mass production of content.

We can stand back and hate it, or we can figure out how to make it work in the best way possible. Read more


Hearst is reviewing Journatic content after false bylines published on Houston Chronicle sites

Hearst-owned newspapers are “reviewing content” supplied by journalism-outsourcing company Journatic after Poynter’s report Monday that the company published more than 350 false bylines on Houston Chronicle website stories.

The company issued the following statement through Chronicle Communications Director Nicki Britton:

Hearst Newspapers, including the flagship Houston Chronicle, is reviewing content it has received from Journatic. As part of this review, changes already have been made to their byline and attribution processes, and all archived content that resides on that carried misattributed bylines is in the process of being corrected. We are closely monitoring our relationship with Journatic to be certain that its work product meets the highest journalistic and ethical standards.

Related: Journatic published hundreds of stories under fake bylines on Houston Chronicle websites (Poynter) || Earlier: Journatic memo to staff: ‘DO NOT LIE ABOUT YOUR NAME’ | The Sun-Times and GateHouse end their relationships with Journatic, and the Tribune suspends it after plagiarism revelations, newsroom takes over TribLocal (Poynter) | Journatic worker takes ‘This American Life’ inside outsourced journalism (Poynter). Read more


Journatic published hundreds of stories under fake bylines on Houston Chronicle websites

Outsourcing company Journatic used previously undisclosed fake bylines on more than 350 stories published on behalf of the Houston Chronicle, Poynter has learned.

“Chad King” was not a real person.

This news comes on the heels of Journatic’s indefinite suspension Friday by the Chicago Tribune, which has retaken control of its TribLocal publications after learning that a Journatic writer plagiarized a story on one of its websites. Journatic also faced public criticism Saturday from a resigning executive.

This discovery also follows previous revelations that Journatic used fake bylines in other stories for the Houston Chronicle, as well as the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and San Francisco Chronicle.

At the time of those first revelations, Journatic CEO Brian Timpone assured Poynter that the fake bylines were limited to real-estate news briefs produced by the company’s BlockShopper subsidiary.

Timpone told Poynter several times that Journatic never has and never will use aliases. In a memo sent to staff Timpone categorically stated, “Author aliases were never a part of the Journatic editorial systems from which we produce news for clients.” In an email to Poynter last week, Timpone reiterated:

“…as I’ve said repeatedly, we have only ever systemically
published alias bylines with stories, which were cross-published in Chicago and Houston online, as well as the SF print instance. Journatic’s systems publish no byline or a writer byline, when appropriate.”

We now know that was not true.

‘Chad King’ bylines

Poynter has identified hundreds of previously undisclosed cases of news stories that Journatic published on Houston Chronicle-owned “Ultimate” hyperlocal websites using a fictional byline, “Chad King.”

Above are a few of the 342 local news stories Journatic produced under the fictional byline “Chad King” in 2010 and 2011.

These stories attributed to “Chad King” include all kinds of local news produced by Journatic, such as high school sports, school closings, crime stories and election results.

At least 342 Chad King bylines appeared on 16 of the Chronicle’s Ultimate websites. Even more may once have existed on six other now-defunct Ultimate sites.

The stories began appearing Sept. 15, 2010, and all but ceased in February 2011 (save for one story in April 2011). From their original dates of publication until this weekend — as long as 22 months for the earliest one — the stories carried the false bylines.

This past weekend, when Poynter posed questions to company officials about these findings, most of the articles were suddenly converted to a “Journatic News Service” byline. No corrections or disclosures were appended. The company’s clean-up effort seems to have missed most of the photo galleries, which still carry the Chad King bylines.

On Saturday, after Poynter raised questions about the fictional “Chad King” bylines (top), Journatic altered almost all of them to “Journatic News Service” (bottom). No corrections were posted to notify readers.

Howard Decker, neighborhood news manager at Houston Chronicle, referred questions to a company spokeswoman who provided a statement saying Hearst is reviewing all its Journatic content.

It remains unclear why Journatic stopped the practice of using “Chad King” bylines in early 2011 but took no steps to correct the previously published stories in the year since.

Copy editor’s name used on stories she didn’t write

In a smaller, more recent case, former Journatic copy editor Irene McShane complained to the company this past weekend that her byline appears on stories that she “did not report or write … for the Houston Chronicle or its websites,” she said in an email obtained by Poynter.

Poynter was able to identify 11 stories using her name on the Ultimate sites, from late April through May of this year. Four are weekly events listings all published on May 3, like this one. Six are features on local businesses, like this one for Al’s Formal Wear. The last features nutritional advice titled “Digestive enzymes key to good health.”

Irene McShane said in an email to Journatic that she did not write this story, or any of the others attributed to her.

McShane requested that these bylines be changed, in an email sent Saturday to Journatic Community News Manager Amanda Smith-Teutsch and Editorial Director Kathryn Swartz:

Amanda and Kathryn:

It has come to my attention that my name falsely appears as the reporter/writer/author of several stories on the Houston Chronicle’s “Ultimate” websites.

I did not report or write any stories for the Houston Chronicle or its websites.

These are false bylines.

The stories with my name falsely attached include, but are not limited to, the following:

[List of nine links omitted -- all included in our list]

I would appreciate it if you would promptly remove my name from all stories on the Houston Chronicle’s “Ultimate” websites.

Explanations sought

Timpone has not responded to Poynter’s questions for this article.

Journatic spokesperson Kendra Thornton provided this statement: “We are in the process of conducting a thorough review of our policies, software, technology and personnel. We are immediately and forcefully addressing the issues we find and making changes where necessary. Until we have completed our review we will decline any further comment.”

Mike Fourcher, the Journatic production manager and editorial head who resigned Saturday over its “misguided set of priorities,” told Poynter he had no direct knowledge of the “Chad King” stories, which pre-date his time with the company.

But after talking to some staff who were involved in a story that carried a “Chad King” byline, he said the bylines may have been misapplied as a result of sloppy process, not purposeful deception. “Those fake bylines were not about hiding somebody, it was about having a process that wasn’t a tight process.”

A source with direct knowledge of the process, who requested anonymity because the source is not authorized to speak for the company, explained that the Chad King byline was meant to be used as an internal placeholder in some situations, but not to be used publicly.

Use of the “Chad King” byline typically meant an editor had written the story, the source said, though Poynter has received evidence separately of instances in which the Chad King byline appeared on work by freelance writers, not editors. “On the rare occasion that the editor cobbled together a couple of graphs, they put the Chad King byline on a story to indicate to our editing staff that the story didn’t need writing — just publishing.”

Broken promises

So, why does any of this matter?

Reuters media critic Jack Shafer explored “the sanctity of the byline” in a column last week, based on what was known then about Journatic’s use of fake bylines.

“Knowing the identity of the writers makes it easier to read a newspaper critically and hold writers accountable. It’s been a good thing for journalists, too, making it easier for the better ones to convert their high reputations into better jobs,” Shafer writes. “But you can’t say that for Journatic … The application of an alias neither makes the writer more accountable nor does it really help him advance his reputation in the journalistic marketplace.”

A byline creates transparency and accountability by making a promise to the reader that this person — a real person — gathered this information, shaped these words and stands by their accuracy. If you have a problem with a story or a question, you know who to contact about it. If you doubt the story’s credibility, you know whose past work and personal entanglements to research.

“The issue is authenticity,” wrote Edward Wasserman this weekend.

By using fictional or inaccurate bylines, Journatic broke that promise and betrayed the trust of the Houston Chronicle and its readers, hundreds of times.

Related: Hearst is “reviewing” Journatic content after false bylines published on Houston Chronicle websites (Poynter) | Journatic memo to staff: “DO NOT LIE ABOUT YOUR NAME” (Poynter) || Earlier: The Sun-Times and GateHouse end their relationships with Journatic, and the Tribune suspends it after plagiarism revelations (Poynter) | Journatic worker takes ‘This American Life’ inside outsourced journalism (Poynter). Read more


Tribune newsroom takes over TribLocal work done by Journatic

In a memo sent Sunday afternoon, Chicago Tribune Editor and Senior Vice President Gerould Kern told staff that the paper would once again be directly responsible for its suburban TribLocal content. In addition, “all Journatic news content is gone from TribLocal sites,” Kern clarified in an email forwarded to me. This change follows the Tribune’s decision, announced Friday, to suspend work with Journatic, which had taken over TribLocal on behalf of the company about three months ago.

At the time, Kern told the Tribune:

“We’ve made an investment in this company because we believe that it is a more effective way of providing hyperlocal news, and we think we can do more of it in this way.”

The move to suspend work with Journatic was precipitated by a plagiarized story revealed Friday and ongoing revelations about false bylines published in the Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle, featured on “This American Life” two weeks ago.

Kern’s memo follows.


The Chicago Tribune newsroom has assumed responsibility for all content appearing in TribLocal in print and online for the foreseeable future. All Journatic content has been eliminated.

Read more

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. Read more


Journatic memo to staff: ‘DO NOT LIE ABOUT YOUR NAME’

In a memo sent to Journatic staff Saturday morning, Amanda Smith-Teutsch, the outsourcing company’s community news manager, addressed the fallout from the Chicago Tribune’s discovery that writer Luke Campbell had plagiarized a story. The Tribune, a Journatic investor, announced Friday night that it would suspend work with the company for its TribLocal content.

From: Amanda Smith-Teutsch
Date: Sat, Jul 14, 2012 at 10:09 AM
Subject: This weekend’s news – Please read

Good morning everyone. Many of you have contacted me individually, and I want you to hear the news from the source and not second hand.

I am sure by now you have all seen this news. If you haven’t, please take a moment to read.

In an isolated incident, a writer committed plagiarism. We examined all of that writer’s work and found no other incidents that would lead us to suspect plagiarism; we are checking over other work as well.

This is what it means for us:

Read more

Chicago Tribune discovers plagiarism, suspends work with Journatic

Vouchification | Chicago Tribune | Williamsburg Yorktown Daily | Illinois Times | Gazebo News
One of Journatic’s editorial leaders, Mike Fourcher, announced Saturday morning that he has resigned from the outsourcing company because he and the company’s founders “fundamentally disagree about ethical and management issues as they relate to a successful news business.” Journatic said late Saturday that it had planned to fire Fourcher before he resigned.

In a phone interview, Fourcher said, “I’m upset because I believe what Journatic was originally conceived to do was a good idea. It went off track.” Fourcher, who was with the company just 10 weeks, 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. … The only metrics that exist are to punish people for failure or to encourage them to fear embarrassment.”

That embarrassment arrived, for one particular writer and the company, Friday evening in a letter to readers from Chicago Tribune President Vince Casanova. The paper announced it would suspend its relationship with Journatic, the company it invested in and hired to take over its TribLocal websites after laying off about 20 journalists. The note reads:

We made the decision after it came to light Friday that a sports story published in this week’s Deerfield TribLocal contained elements that were plagiarized and fabricated. …

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Departure of Baristanet founder doesn’t portend changes, says editor

With founder Debbie Galant taking a new job at Montclair State University, where she’ll join “an ambitious effort to nurture digital and hyperlocal journalism in New Jersey,” Baristanet co-owner Liz George now has a busier summer ahead of her.

But George said she doesn’t expect major changes in the hyperlocal site’s coverage or approach.

“We have such a mix of voices, I don’t think there’s going to be a dramatic change,” she said in a phone interview. “We have a sensibility that we’ve worked on for eight years, throughout the site.”

In the past several months, George said she and Galant spent most of their time managing the business and handling editorial issues, with some writing interspersed. She said it wasn’t a full-time job for either of them, though of course it will be harder with Galant gone and contributors away on summer vacations. Read more