July 26, 2012

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. But they say they want answers from Tribune management about what the Tribune’s relationship with Journatic will be in the future.

Here’s the letter’s text:

July 25, 2012
Dear Gerry:
There is deep frustration and concern in the newsroom over the Tribune’s continued relationship with Journatic, one that threatens to jeopardize our credibility–the one thing that most distinguishes us to our readers and advertisers.

Details of the Journatic business model remain unclear, but the operation has across the country demonstrated questionable practices difficult to explain away. Repeated incidents of false bylines and false datelines, along with plagiarism, have been exposed at several Journatic clients.

As employees concerned about both the reputation of the Tribune and its future, we have been disturbed not just by the relationship with Journatic but also a lack of detail about how this relationship came about. We also want to know what form, if any, it will take going forward.

We know you share our concerns about the Tribune’s credibility, and are enlisting your help in getting answers to these critical questions not yet addressed by Tribune management:

How much has this company invested in Journatic and what percentage of that entity does this company own?

When the decision to invest in Journatic was made, what specifically was done to vet the background of its owners and prior investors as well as its business practices? Who conducted those reviews, what was the outcome and how did they assess the firm’s ethical standards, methods and quality controls in providing so-called content?

Who was involved in the decision to salvage the relationship with Journatic despite broad evidence of practices antithetical to our fundamental beliefs and traditions as a newsroom?

The code of ethics that all Tribune employees must sign makes clear that it is a firing offense to engage in the kinds of practices that Journatic has engaged in again and again. Why then is Tribune seeking to salvage its relationship with Journatic when as a matter of policy it declares zero tolerance for such behavior?

We have been told that there will be a firewall between the use of Journatic copy and that of the newsroom. Yet the newsroom was called to fill in the coverage gap with the sudden moratorium on Journatic earlier this month. If the relationship is revived, how can we be assured that a separation will be both inviolable and clear to readers?

The Tribune has spent considerable efforts positioning itself as an exemplar of watchdog reporting, devoting major resources to exposing malfeasance, exploitation and greed. How do you expect customers to believe in our credibility as a watchdog if we don’t demand the same high standards of conduct from our business partners that we do of others?


Your colleagues (see attached page)

David Kidwell John Chase
Jeff Coen David Heinzmann
Bob Secter James Webb
Noreen Ahmed-Ullah Lisa Black
Kathy Bergen Dawn Rhodes
Christopher Borrelli Lolly Bowean
Manya Brachear Jonathan Bullington
John Byrne Jeff Carlson
Mary Kate Chambers Jodi Cohen
John Cooper Jeff Danna
Hal Dardick Joe Darrow
Julie Deardorff Cynthia Dizikes
Duaa Eldeib Monica Eng
Hugo Espinoza Liam Ford
Peter Frost Monique Garcia
Ted Gregory Eric Hahn
Anne Halston Melissa Harris
Michael Hawthorne Alexander Helbach
Jon Hilkevitch Dan Hinkel
Jared Hopkins David Jackson
Jim Jaworski Melissa Jenco
Trevor Jensen Chris Jones
Blair Kamin Gregory Karp
John Keilman Rick Kogan
Eric Krol Todd Lighty
Jeff Long Kristen Mack
Brian MacQueen Joe Mahr
Michelle Manchir Alan Marumoto
Colleen Mastony Bob McCoppin
Bill McDonald Mark Misulonas
Jason Morris Shanna Novak
Matt O’Connor Antonio Olivo
Vikki Ortiz-Healy Kevin Pang
Rick Pearson Michael Phillips
Mary Ellen Podmolik Diane Rado
Brian Rausch Regina Robinson
Michelle Rowan Angela Rozas
Max Rust Joseph Ryan
Nancy Ryan Ameet Sachdev
Mary Schmich Deborah Shelton
Stacy St. Clair Annie Sweeney
Saleema Syed Trine Tsouderos
Tracy Van Moorlehem Jennifer Weigel
Julie Wernau Stu Werner
Wailin Wong Jon Yates

Last week, Kern said the paper was bringing in a consultant “to conduct a rigorous review of editorial procedures, policies and practices of Journatic to determine if and how it can meet Chicago Tribune standards” and that “we will not consider reinstating the use of Journatic until we are 100 percent confident in its ability to meet our professional and ethical standards.”

Related: The hard truths of hyperlocal journalism reveal themselves in Journatic trouble |
Tribun newsroom takes over TribLocal work done by Journatic | Chicago Tribune
discovers plagiarism, suspends work with Journatic
| Chicago Tribune investigates Journatic’s work

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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