GUILD VOICES: Chronicle should end deal with Journatic

by Kat Anderson, Director, Bay News Rising

July 18, 2012

Kat Anderson

Investigations, both internal and outside, have revealed that content outsourcer Journatic supplied fake bylines to its publishing customers which include the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, GateHouse Media and Hearst-owned San Francisco Chronicle and Houston Chronicle.

Journatic’s head of editorial production, Mike Fourcher resigned over the weekend.  His personal blog states that he attempted to address editorial and related problems with the founders, suggested changes to company policy and attempted to refine how Journatic collects and reports news.

“Every attempt either fell on deaf ears or was thwarted by demands for the creation of more and more performance metrics,” he wrote.

A slap on the back to Fourcher for his principles.

Kudos to the Sun-Times and GateHouse Media for ending their relationships with Journatic.  These organizations understand the sanctity of bylines and the relationships of trust that local journalists establish with their readers.  It’s a matter of industry standards and it’s a matter of what is just plain “right.”  In his Media Nation blog, Dan Kennedy reveals some of the soul-searching under way in media circles, and the economic arguments in favor of cheap outsourcing. The self-serving defense of fibbery rings false to me.

The Chicago-Tribune is almost home with its decision to “suspend indefinitely” its relationship with Journatic while it conducts an internal investigation and seeks information from Journatic leadership.  I hope a careful review will lead to terminating use of out-sourced content.

So, what’s up with the Hearst Corporation?  It seems not to be ending or suspending anything.  In fact, it seems that it is committed to working things out with Journatic.

Houston Chronicle Communications Director Nicki Britton released the following statement, as reported on Poynter:

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.  

As Rebecca Rosen Lum reported earlier, San Francisco Chronicle Editor Ward Bushee stated that the paper preferred to devote its newsroom resources to higher-profile coverage and use the presumably cheaper BlockShopper (Journatic’s sister company) for real estate content.  Bushee said that steps will be taken to end the fictitious credits, and impose standard journalistic rules on BlockShopper.

I challenge this milque-toast response to a serious breach of journalistic ethics.  The Chronicle should end its relationships with Journatic and BlockShopper.

When the Chronicle outsources the writing of content, it directs opportunities away from reporters sitting in San Francisco, invested in and knowledgeable about its many communities. It devalues workers and cheapens the organization as a whole.  It erodes the relationship of trust between it and its readers, who will now question what else is tainted in the news organization.

Chronicle management could rightly terminate the employment of a reporter who supplied a single false byline. So, why countenance letting Journatic off the hook when it has supplied perhaps thousands of false bylines to possibly dozens publications, according to news reports?

Is it because saving a buck is more important than journalistic standards? Or is it because saving a buck is more important than retaining professional staff that helps the Chronicle be the great newspaper that it is?  Or is it because saving a buck is more important than maintaining a relationship of trust with its readers?

This is a no-brainer, Chronicle.

 Kat Anderson is a San Francisco resident who is running a summer program for college-level journalism students in collaboration with the Pacific Media Workers Guild and Fog City Journal, financed by the Berger-Marks Foundation in Washington, D.C.


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