Chicago Tribune investigates Journatic's work

Chicago Tribune | Street Fight

This weekend, "This American Life" ran a story about Journatic freelancer Ryan Smith, who noticed fake bylines as he worked on Journatic's Tribune is a company investor and recently moved to have Journatic handle its TribLocal content.

Tribune Editor Gerould Kern says, "Publishing stories under false bylines is a violation of the Chicago Tribune's ethics policy. It has never been acceptable and will not be tolerated. We expect Journatic to adhere to this policy."

Journatic CEO Brian Timpone tells Trib reporter Robert Channick that using the bylines was a mistake and the company discontinued the practice after "TAL" called while reporting the story. In a Poynter interview with Anna Tarkov published this weekend, Timpone went into some detail about how the bylines wormed their way into the company's copy:

There were several reasons for the aliases, Timpone explained. In the beginning, showing up in Google News necessitated a byline and since it was only a few editors who assembled the stories from research done in the Philippines, it wouldn’t have made sense to repeat the same names over and over, he said. Also, people complained about BlockShopper stories. They said their privacy was being violated and some even had lawyers contact the site. “I wasn’t going to have some $12 an hour copywriter be harassed by a lawyer,” Timpone said.

Timpone used similar language in an email to Jim Romenesko over the weekend.

Smith pushed back against Timpone on Twitter Monday morning.

Tribune has a few interesting figures about the company:

Journatic employs about 140 overseas contract workers, mostly in the Philippines, who gather information online and then format it for more than 200 U.S.-based writers and editors, including 60 full-time staffers. The foreign freelancers make as little as 35 cents per story item, according to Timpone.

In a post last week before the "TAL" episode aired, Tom Grubisich wrote that Journatic doesn't deserve the "trash talk" Robert Feder had been laying down about the company. Grubisich points to a couple of articles he's liked. He writes:

What happens to TribLocal under Journatic needs careful analysis because Journatic is one of the most serious disrupters in the local news media, particularly the digital space, where old and new media are pouring their resources in the pursuit of billions of dollars of ad revenue.

Related: Journatic founder: ‘Being based in the community is not beneficial’ | Miner: Journatic offered to pay employees not to talk to reporters | Journalists debate value of robots

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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