When CJR wrote about local news outsourcing company Journatic 10 days ago, its CEO, Brian Timpone, called the use of fake bylines on articles published in the Chicago Tribune “a mistake.” Now, the mistake lies with the Tribune—for continuing to use Journatic content for two weeks after the initial revelations, in which time plagiarized and falsified quotes in their pages came to light. Journatic is sinking deeper into a journalism ethics scandal that will leave its reputation in tatters. Here are the story’s latest updates:
The Chicago Tribune finally suspended its partnership with Journatic on Friday after the discovery that a story supplied by Journatic and written by one journalist, Luke Campbell, contained a quote lifted from a June 7 Deerfield Review story and another that used material from a March 29 Patch.com story.
When the Chicago Sun-Times sent reporters down to Journatic CEO Brian Timpone’s house to discover why there was more fakery than he initially admitted, they found him outside, leaning into a friend’s Maserati. “Don’t you know your CEO is an investor with us?” Timpone asked a reporter, before declining an interview.
The Sun-Times and Gatehouse Media have ended their contracts with Journatic. In an online statement, Tribune vice president Vince Casanova said that the company’s use of Journatic content was “suspended indefinitely” following the latest revelations. The company declined to tell CJR if they planned to cancel the contracts entirely in line with other media companies.
As Tribune deals with the Journatic fallout and gives TribLocal coverage back to its in-house reporters, attention on the outsourcing company has shifted from Ryan Smith, the whistleblower featured on This American Life, to Journatic’s former head of editorial, Mike Fourcher. One day after the Tribune announced it would suspend its contract, Fourcher submitted his resignation (he had worked there for a total of 10 weeks).
“It was not possible for me to negotiate with Journatic,” Fourcher told CJR of his decision to quit. Fourcher thinks the main issue with Journatic is that it treats community reporting as data reporting. Real community reporting cannot be reduced to a quantitative exercise the way little league scores or police statistics can, he said. But when he tried to make changes at Journatic to address these issues he ran into walls.
“There was so little opportunity to make changes to the company that were significant,” Fourcher said. “Decision making was closely guarded.”
Hours after Fourcher’s resignation, a spokesperson for Journatic said the company was planning to fire him anyway. In a statement released to Poynter, published as part of the site’s excellent coverage of the scandal, Journatic spokewoman Kendra Thornton said, “[Fourcher’s] characterization of his departure is entirely inaccurate.” Poynter has also discovered that the false byline “Chad King” was used hundreds of times on a Houston Chronicle-owned hyperlocal site called Ultimate.Hazel Sheffield is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @hazelsheffield. Tags: brian timpone, hyperlocals, journatic, mike fourcher, outsourcing