The radio show This American Life (TAL) featured the story “Forgive Us Our Press Passes” this week about a company called Journatic which uses technology and remote workers to cover the “local” news.
Journatic — now partially owned by The Chicago Tribune — uses out-of-state or off-shore contributors to compile local-interest news articles, frequently uncredited or under assumed bylines.
No one from either company was willing to talk on tape about who was writing what and under what name because, in the words of producer Sarah Koenig, “no newspaper wants a story about them titled ‘Tribune Fires American Writers; Hires Filipinos for Cheaper'”. According to Journatic, all of the supplied work is really just “assembling” and “copyediting” a “bunch of facts”.
“Typing information, assembling it in paragraph form […] sounds to me a lot like writing,” Koenig says.
Journalism vs. Marketing
Journatic maintains that journalism will get better when reporters are freed from the social pressures of community living to see and investigate the truth. One problem is that remote contributors don’t have context for the stories they cover, or only cover one side of the story. According to Journatic’s philosophy, being on the ground can be a hinderance to uncovering the story, and, oh: it’s also cheaper. Services employing remote writers allows papers to reduce the number of journalists covering a local beat, similar to what has happened in New Orleans Times-Picayne.
According to the article “Journatic worker takes ‘This American Life’ inside outsourced journalism” by Anna Tarkov at Poynter.org, Tarkov quotes the journalist featured in the TAL show:
“People didn’t think much about the beef they were eating until someone exposed the practice of putting so-called ‘pink slime’ into ground beef,” he said in an email. “Once it came out, the food industry moved quickly to change it. I feel like companies like Journatic are providing the public ‘pink slime’ journalism.”
Content from so-called “content mills” is dangerous when you consider the critical social role lengthy, independent investigation provides. Traditional reporting is fighting for survival while custom content and specialty-focused news is growing.
Sites like Journatic cull a lot of facts, perhaps miss the larger stories, but can free time for more lengthy, and expensive, investigative reporting. Still, the world is uneasy as our trusted news sources become increasingly fractured, technology allows for instantaneous updates (perhaps lacking context and consideration), and seemingly driven more by bottom line than by service to a local community.
Six Estate Approach
We aren’t covering local news, and, we’re clear on what we offer: a valuable service curating and synthesizing niche news. Newsblogging offers the benefits of content marketing for corporate clients, but also provides an opportunity to cover news and events in areas deemed “too small” for traditional media to cover consistently.
We hire professional journalists familiar with a particular beat for each of our clients. That provides a sense of context around a particular industry or topic, and, sources are clearly listed on each article.
We continue to observe the changes in traditional news reporting while keeping an eye to the future because in all of this all of our industries are changing.
Image by Brian Butko, used under its Creative Commons license