The Journatic story keeps spreading. Today David Folkenflik summarizes what we know so far for NPR’s “Morning Edition,” bringing the tale of outsourced local news and fake bylines to many millions more listeners than those who first heard about it on “This American Life.” And Folkenflik has more on GateHouse Media’s decision to replace Journatic with a similar in-house operation — minus the fake bylines, which Journatic itself has said it will stop using.
There have been a few other developments as well. Among the more interesting is a post written by Mathew Ingram for GigaOm, who took issue with critics of Journatic by arguing that the real problem was a resistance to new ways of doing things. Ingram writes (the links are his):
Critics of the Journatic model, including Mandy Jenkins of Digital First Media and Anna Tarkov at the Poynter Institute, seem to want newspapers to continue to produce hyper-local community journalism in the traditional way, with reporters based in the community writing traditional stories. But given the kinds of financial pressures on the newspaper industry, that may simply not be viable for outlets like the [Chicago] Tribune or GateHouse. That’s not to say they shouldn’t devote resources to those communities, but it does mean that looking at alternative models for some kinds of content makes sense as well.
When Tarkov and I debated the issue with Ingram on Twitter yesterday, his first response was, “If I am defending anything, @dankennedy_nu, it’s the idea of experimenting with new ways of doing journalism. Is that bad?”
The problem is that there’s new and there’s new. The low-cost nonprofit, online-only model being tried in places like New Haven and San Diego, rebuilding local journalism through neighborhood reporting and civic engagement, is new. Hiring people in the Philippines to write news briefs for your local paper under Anglo-sounding bylines — well, that’s new, too. Not everything new should be embraced.
Also on Thursday, Tarkov had a follow-up that included a memo to the Journatic troops from chief executive Brian Timpone.
And speaking of memos, I received from a trusted source a memo from David Arkin, vice president of content and audience for GateHouse Media, explaining GateHouse’s decision to stop using Journatic and to replace it with something similar in-house. GateHouse owns more than 100 community newspapers in Eastern Massachusetts, though none had any Journatic content imposed on them. The full text of the memo follows:
You may have read recently in industry trade publications that GateHouse Media has ended its relationship with content-producer Journatic.
Journatic creates local content like news briefs, calendar items and submitted education content such as honor rolls for newspapers. We started working with Journatic more than a year ago and had been using the service at nearly 30 GateHouse newspapers.
Since we didn’t use the service at all of our papers, we never communicated our partnership with this vendor to the company.
As you likely have read on Poynter and other blogs this week, we have decided to end the relationship with Journatic and build a similar service with central corporate staff for the newspapers that were using the Journatic service. We are in the process of ramping up a 10-person team that will produce this content for the newspapers.
We decided to end the relationship with Journatic for a few reasons:
— Journatic had trouble providing the kinds of content that our newspapers really needed. They provided a lot of content but weren’t successful in choosing the right kind of calendar items and news briefs.
— We spent too much time centrally and locally addressing errors with their content.
— We discovered we could produce process-oriented content that our newspapers really wanted at a more economical price than Journatic.
We have been working on this move for several months. The news this week that Journatic put fake bylines on stories reaffirmed our decision to leave, but a decision to end the relationship had been made months beforehand.
Bringing the service in-house has helped target the kind of content newspapers really want, and we’re making good progress toward cleaner copy. Producing that content centrally takes great coordination and communication, something we can manage better than a vendor.
We support Journatic’s model, which is to take process-oriented content out of newsrooms to allow our newspapers to focus on high-quality original reporting. We believe handling that community content centrally will put us in a better position to achieve a higher level of enterprise reporting at our newspapers.
Our goal is to transition all newspapers currently using Journatic to our centralized group by August and to ensure the service we’re providing is excellent. After that we’ll evaluate whether the service could be implemented at more GateHouse newspapers.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.
David P. Arkin
Vice President of Content & Audience / GateHouse Media, Inc.
My source, a GateHouse insider, analyzes Arkin’s memo thusly: “From my perspective, there is a very narrow subset of stuff that could be assigned to a Journatic-type operation that could potentially free up my time for more worthy pursuits. The key to Arkin’s statement, of course, is the degree to which the intent of contracting with a service like Journatic or building a similar operation in-house is to free us up for more enterprise reporting, multimedia, social media, etc., rather than just to ‘decrease the surplus population.’ Time will tell, I suppose.”