Phony bylines by publishers including SF Chronicle raise ethical concerns

It took real journalists to reveal last week that some publishers, including the Hearst Corp.’s San Francisco Chronicle, have been using outsourced content under made-up bylines — a disservice to readers that damages the credibility of good journalists everywhere.

Our parent union, The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America, has issued a statement condemning this practice, and demanding transparency.

The content and fabricated bylines were provided by a vendor called “Journatic” through its subsidiary, BlockShopper. We consider the fabrication of bylines a serious breach of ethics and a direct threat to the integrity of our journalism. It also threatens our jobs and livelihoods.

Legitimacy of bylines should never be questioned. It is a basic industry responsibility to safeguard them.

According to news reports, the Hearst Corp. has worked with Journatic since 2009. After this controversy was exposed on Chicago WBEZ-FM’s radio show “This American Life,” Hearst reviewed its outsourced content and identified false bylines at the Chronicle.

The Chronicle offered partial explanations to its readers on Tuesday in a non-bylined, anonymous story.  The story indicated that “Journatic” products were used to produce the Sunday real estate section, and 32 stories with the alias “Jake Barnes” were identified.

We are disappointed to learn that the Chronicle used outsourced content, and that false bylines got past the editorial management. We also are disappointed to learn that use of these unscrupulous content mills apparently will continue. We have scheduled a meeting with Chronicle management this week to discuss our concerns. We are certain the management shares our interest in protecting the integrity of our journalism.

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Michael Applegate

Pacific Media Workers Executive Officer