Faced with falling profits and a failing to make an easy transition into the digital age, some American news media outlets have turned away from facts and embraced dishonesty to resuscitate a dying industry.
This has been illustrated by the story of a scandal that has developed over the past few months involving such big name news peddlers as the Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune, among others. All of these companies, in the name of profits, opted to turn to a news mill called Journatic for the production of local content.
Journatic produces this content by searching the Internet for local information on home sales, death notices, Little League scores, police blotter entries, honor rolls, school lunch menus and company press releases and then hiring low-paid and often foreign writers to piece together the information. Its U.S.-based writers receive as little as $12 to $24 for 500-word to 1,000-word stories and Philippine-based content producers get around 35 to 40 cents per piece for their work.
The work is then put through an assembly line of sorts whereby content is added by a string of producers and edits are made by editors. Many of these assembly line news stories have been published under false bylines. This, according to Poynter, was the case with more than 350 stories published on behalf of the Houston Chronicle.
Controversy surrounding Journatic’s outsourced local “journalism” and use of fake bylines was brought to light in a recent radio broadcast of “This American Life.” In the weeks following, many papers reviewed the Journatic content that they received and often found evidence of plagiarism and in some cases outright fabrication.
The Chicago Tribune completely dropped its contract with Journatic and announced this week that it would fill the content void with real local reporters and freelancers. With public pressure other news outlets may follow suit or avoid getting contracts with content mills in the first place.