July 4, 2012

Chicago Tribune | San Francisco Chronicle | The Advocate | Poynter | Jonathan Stray
Just days after “This American Life” reported on outsourcing company Journatic, two of its news organization clients have announced plans to stop working with the company.

Fake bylines now have been found on stories at four news organizations, according to the Chicago Tribune, an investor in Journatic and a client. Journatic used fake bylines in stories for the Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, and at Hearst’s Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle. Hearst’s Connecticut papers found no fake bylines.

At the San Francisco Chronicle:

An internal Chronicle investigation Monday found that BlockShopper contributor Jeremy Schnitker submitted 32 articles under the pen name of Jake Barnes in addition to 105 articles under his own name. Those were the only false names uncovered in the investigation.

Sun-Times Editor-In-Chief Jim Kirk told the Tribune’s Robert Channick that the paper is ending its relationship with Journatic immediately.

“With Journatic’s partnership with the Chicago Tribune under way, we already were in the midst of winding down our relationship with Journatic’s Blockshopper,” Kirk said in an email Tuesday. “However, in light of the recent revelations of false bylines, we have decided to end our relationship immediately.”

GateHouse Vice President of Content & Audience David Arkin told Poynter that the company would stop using Journatic at 28 of its papers by the end of August, when a centralized, in-house team will provide the content instead. Initially “intrigued” by Journatic, Arkin had hoped that using the company would allow GateHouse to develop more original reporting. But, he said, that never happened:

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.

Writer Ryan Smith brought his concerns about Journatic to “This American Life” after working with the company as a freelancer. Smith expected to be fired after exposing Journatic, instead he “received his weekly Blockshopper assignments by email” after the episode aired last weekend. And, Channick reports, Smith accepted those assignments.

Smith confirmed to Anna Tarkov by text message that he is still working for Journatic, saying “I didn’t expect to have this choice. I thought I would already be fired.” Smith told Tarkov he would continue working for Journatic this week while he thinks about what he wants to do next. Later in a Gchat message, he told Tarkov that he will resign and Friday will be his last day working for Journatic.

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Julie Moos (jmoos@poynter.org) has been Director of Poynter Online and Poynter Publications since 2009. Previously, she was Editor of Poynter Online (2007-2009) and Poynter Publications…
Julie Moos

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