Last month, This American Life’s shocking report on Journatic detailed a new “approach” to local journalism: mixing outsourced content creation and computer algorithms with faked bylines. Journatic provides content for a host of prominent newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, which replaced half its TribLocal staff when it signed on with Journatic and also has an ownership stake in the company. After briefly suspending its work with Journatic, the Tribune has opted against dropping the company.
In talking with This American Life, Brian Timpone, Journatic’s founder and CEO, argued the offshore workers aren’t doing journalism; they’re “assembling and copy-editing a bunch of facts.” In an earlier interview with Poynter, he argued that a local presence “is not beneficial” for local reporting.
Ryan Smith, who exposed Journatic, calls the company’s practice “Pink Slime Journalism,” a fitting name.
How can we challenge this practice. The Free Press’s 10 ways to tell if your local news is being outsourced emphasizes citizen activism, challenging corporate control, and media literacy. At Poynter, Jeff Sonderman argues that hyperlocalism is antithetical to scale.
To combat Pink Slime Journalism, we need to Pay the Writer. Journatic, along with content farms like Demand Media and aggregators like the Huffington Post, is another extension of bottom-line driven attacks on writers and their craft. Together, writers and their allies can fight for quality journalism that fairly values writers and benefits communities.