Washington, D.C – In response to last week’s disclosure that publishers are using outsourced content from Journatic and its subsidiary BlockShopper, The Newspaper Guild-CWA Executive Council calls for an immediate end to any deceptive practices involving outsourced and off-shored journalism and demands complete transparency. Publishers need to attach legitimate bylines to content identifying the actual writer and their location.
Several stories, including one on Poynter and a podcast on “This American Life,” have exposed publishers using Journatic or BlockShopper - companies that provide local news coverage done by “journalists” based in other countries. The publishers were caught using false bylines, a practice the company acknowledged and said they are discontinuing. The company claimed these individuals were only gathering data and not writing.
But a Phillippines-based writer acknowledged on “This American Life” that he was doing the actual writing. Some foreign-based writers have used local area codes when calling sources, and have identified themselves as working at or for the publishing paper, e.g. The San Francisco Chronicle. The Chronicle, which has Guild-represented employees, used BlockShopper for a real estate section and said they were unaware of the false bylines.
Apart from the obvious ethics and credibility issues raised by the fact that these so-called reporters lied to sources about who they are and where they work, there is also the underlying reason for having a byline. Contrary to popular belief, a byline is not about a reporter's ego: A byline is attached to a story for accountability. If you are a real person with a real name, who might bump into one of your readers at the grocery store, you are far more motivated to get the story right than if you are writing under a fake name, from halfway around the world.
It was also reported that the Tribune Co. laid off a number of American-based journalists and replaced them with Journatic, which actually has its American office in the Tribune Tower in Chicago.
Many Guild-represented regional papers are the most trusted news on the internet. Guild members have deep pride in the work they do and are committed to maintaining strong journalistic ethics within the industry and at the publications that employ them. It appears however, that the owners of these companies don’t share the same sentiments. The great hollowing out of American journalism, which now appears to be led by publishers, will deal a death blow to quality and trusted journalism at a time when America is in dire need of holding officials and corporations accountable.
We believe our members have been a key part in building the digital future of journalism from the very start. We envision a future where digital information doesn’t mean cheap, shoddy, quick and possibly false. Consumers need to make clear that quality matters and show they are wiling to pay for trusted information through advertising or subscription models.
The Guild will continue to push the highest journalistic ethics, stand and fight for quality and maintain the dignity of the profession of journalism. This nuclear race to the bottom, for the cheapest news that fits, is deeply disturbing. It is no longer naive or hyperbole to say the fate of our country may depend on who wins this fight.