Monday, July 16, 2012

Journalism Outsourced, Pseudonymized

This story is all over the place. Well, no, it's not in "hyperlocal" sections of local newspapers, and it isn't under fake bylines; that would be telling on itself. The practice is the outsourcing of local news by local publications; the company, Journatic, is used by some major large-city dailies including Chicago Tribune and yes, to my regret, the Houston Chronicle. Here's Mark Coddington of Harvard's Nieman Journalism Center:, to pick one of hundreds of articles, mostly because it has good links:


The Chicago Tribune just outsourced its hyperlocal TribLocal sections to Journatic, and it began investigating Journatic’s work for fake bylines. The Chicago Sun-Times, Houston Chronicle, and San Francisco Chronicle also reported fake bylines on Journatic stories in their papers, and the Sun-Times and the newspaper chain GateHouse ended their contracts with Journatic, though GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram reported that those contracts expired before the fake-byline story came out. Journatic’s CEO sent a memo rallying the troops and declaring that its aliases would be discontinued.

The revelations pointed toward a larger discussion over how to do the tough work of making local journalism sustainable, summarized well by NPR’s David Folkenflik. Northeastern journalism professor Dan Kennedy said operations like Journatic’s “pink slime journalism” are a function of the fact that local journalism is difficult and expensive to do well, though the solution will ultimately come from the bottom up, not from cookie-cutter approaches. Free Press, meanwhile, urged us to demand better out of local news.

Coddington goes on to quote people who actually think this is a good thing, or inevitable given the economics of the news business, or some other claptrap. Personally, I think it's just plain dishonest. If they're going to outsource local news to nonlocal writers, and pseudonymize the purported journalists' bylines, how are they any better than a thorough and careful blogger, that "evil" [/snark] individual whom mainstream journalists are always condemning?

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