Monthly Archives: June 2012

* UPDATE: Chicago Tribune to investigate fake bylines used by its hyperlocal content provider.

The latest “This American Life” looks at hyperlocal content provider Journatic and interviews Journatic writer-editor Ryan Smith, who reveals that the company uses fake bylines for its Filipino writers — or did, until “TAL” blew the whistle on them.

Smith tells TAL’s Sarah Koenig that “when I ended up looking at the names on a lot of the stories [he edited], the names on the stories that were published weren’t the ones that I saw had written the stories.”

One piece, for example, had the byline of “Ginny Cox,” when the story was actually written by Gisele Bautista in the Philippines.

“Glenda Smith” did not write this piece. (From Chicago Tribune’s TribLocal)

Producer Koenig says: “Looking at the computer system that the company uses to manage its stories, it seems that when Gisele worked on this real esate story, there was a button called SELECT ALIAS, and when she clicked on it, she had a choice: she could either be Ginny Cox, or Glenda Smith.

Journatic and the Chicago Tribune’s TribLocal have used other fake bylines for stories written by Filipino writers, including Jimmy Finkel, Carrie Reed, Jay Brownstone and Amy Anderson.

Ira Glass says at the end of the segment: “After [Koenig] asked [Journatic CEO] Brian Timpone about the fake names on certain stories that Journatic publishes, Timpone told her that Journatic decided to eliminate the fake names. Brad Moore of the Chicago Tribune told us that the Trib isn’t going to allow them anymore either.” (Tribune Co. is a Journatic investor and uses the company to produce its TribLocal weeklies.)

Journatic now credits them to Neighborhood News Service.

“The real Filipinos’ names will not appear in the paper,” notes Glass.


More from “This American Life” (check to see when it’s airing in your market):

SARAH KOENIG: “The engine of this [Journatic] endeavor is data, tons of data that the company mines and sorts and enters into databases — public information and also harder to find records. It works like an assembly line: one person does research, another generates a lead, another writes it. Sometimes a couple of paragraphs might be written by a computer, using an algorithm, and someone else edits it. The goal is to create the largest local news machine ever. In the next few months they want to quadruple their output to produce 100,000 stories a week.”

“In all the time [writer-editor Ryan Smith’s] worked for Journatic, he’s never spoken directly to his supervising editor, who sits in St. Louis. They communicate exclusively thorugh the computer. When Ryan has a question about how to do something, his supervisor sometimes answers by posting a private video on YouTube. That’s the only time Ryan’s heard the guy’s voice. It’s all very future.”

“Ryan says he learned about the Filipino writers after complaining to his supervisor that the copy he was getting was rife with basic grammar and spelling errors. That’s when his editor told him to cut the writer some slack — they weren’t native speakers. So Ryan wondered: why do we have these writers at all? His editor wrote back, ‘Well, somebody has to summarize the obits for the death briefs and it’s cheaper to pay the outsourced writer than have an American writer-editor do it. Unfortunately they’re basically paid pennies for these. I have Filipinos asking for better pay on a regular basis. I wish I could do something for them.'”

“An ad Journatic placed seeking Filipino writers offered 35 to 40 cents per story.”

KOENIG: When Ryan agreed to this interview, I didn’t realize he was going to be quite so frank. Oh my God, Ryan, you are so fired.

SMITH (laughing): I am.

KOENIG: Are you OK with that?

SMITH: Yeah.

KOENIG: When he agreed to do this interview, Ryan figured he’d be fired afterwards. But he says it’s worth it if he can do something good for journalism. He says the work he’s been doing has been weighing on his conscience.

UPDATE: I asked Journatic CEO Brian Timpone to comment on the show. He writes:

Re: aliases, it is inaccurate.

We used them on real estate stories exclusively — never for client assignments — and for five years before we did any work for newspapers. [Journatic owns Blockshopper.]

Brian Timpone

Several of our clients asked to cross publish a handful of those stories on their hyper local sites– they are popular– and we obliged but neglected to change the bylines. It was an oversight. And now we do.

Fwiw–we originally used aliases on to protect our editors, who would get threats from story subjects, particularly lawyers who threatened to sue every time we wrote about a lawyer home sale.

We didnt ignore the complaints– but took them directly and handled them centrally vs through editors. As a small company without the resources to defend ourselves, it was the best policy.

BlockShopper stories are a combination of production by an editor (lead), edited research done offshore, and algorithms, which pull from data we gather to add perspective.

Re: the show generally, the reporter was determined to tell a story about offshore workers and local journalism because she thought it would be startling, and that’s what she did.

To that end– the story greatly exaggerates the role of our offshore team members and ignores the work of our us based journalists.

We use offshore resources to gather information– which helps us produce more news and do more journalism, in places where there is often little or none.

NEW ON MONDAY AFTERNOON — “This American Life” producer Sarah Koenig responds:

I just wanted to add my two cents to Brian Timpone’s two cents. Two things:

1. My information about the fake bylines was not inaccurate; I was clear in my story that the fake names appeared only on real estate stories, and that the real estate stories were coming into the Journatic work via Blockshopper. I did understand that, and said so in the story.

2. I had access to the Blockshopper database AND to the Journatic database (I can easily prove this; I took a lot of screen shots of the stuff I was looking at). So Brian is incorrect that I was only looking at Blockshopper work. Not at all.

Oh – and a third one, I guess: I certainly didn’t ignore the work of the US reporters! Ryan, for instance. The story opens with his work on the student of the week, and ends with his Flossmoor budget story. So I’m not sure what Brian means there.

Anyhow – I don’t mean to get into a pissing match with Brian. He’s a nice guy, and he was quite gracious to me throughout the course of the story, especially considering the topics I was asking about. It can’t have been fun for him, but he never cut me off. So I appreciated that.

I asked Timpone about Ryan Smith. “Wasn’t fired,” he writes in an email. “If he resigned he hasn’t told us yet.”

“He was never on staff. Was a freelancer who worked on BlockShopper mostly. The systems he showed Sarah are Blockshopper ones.”

Ryan Smith (Image:

UPDATE II: On Saturday night, I asked Smith about his employment status. He wrote in an email:

My status is well, the first thing I heard about my employment status was on your blog. Brian Timpone has never said anything to me at all. I told him through a Journatic editorial director that he was welcome to call me, but he never did. So, no, have heard nothing.

So do you want to return to Journatic? I asked.

It’s weird, it didn’t occur to me that I’d have an option to come back. I figured once they heard the story and that I gave Sarah access to their databases, etc. I’d be gone. Hearing nothing is eerie. So, I have sort have been prepared not to work there.

* Earlier: Chicago Tribune outsources hyperlocal news to Journatic (

UPDATE: The chief content officer’s job listing below was removed after I posted this.

A Romenesko reader writes: “This is the Jersey equivalent of and the Times-Picayune. Wonder what it means for the [Advance/Newhouse-owned]Star-Ledger?”

Laurie McGinley, who is currently in the Los Angeles Times’ Washington bureau, joins the Washington Post next month to direct its health, science and environment coverage. “Few journalists in Washington know more than Laurie about the workings of the nation’s health care system,” says a Post memo. Read it after the jump. Read More

* Write something short every day, and 11 more pieces of advice for young journalists from GOOD’s ex-editor. (Nieman Journalism Lab)
* Court ruling may force Tribune Co. to divest of broadcasting or newspaper operations in several markets. (Crain’s Chicago Business)
* London’s Daily Mirror is caught lifting a story from Murdoch’s The Daily. (New York Observer)
* As expected, Savannah Guthrie is named “Today” co-host. (New York Times)
* Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson to blog for Patch. (@SEWisconsinPatch)
* OK! Magazine staffer accepts thousands of dollars from PR people after her dog dies. (Gawker)

UPDATE: I’m told that Monroe Evening News editor Deb Saul asked sportswriter Jeff Meade to “add context to the column.” It’s been reposted here.

Veteran Monroe (Mich.) Evening News sportswriter Jeff Meade was struggling to come up with a topic for Tuesday’s column.

“I just didn’t feel fired up about any sports issue,” he says in a phone interview.

In the end, the 57-year-old journalist decided to go with an idea “that was just in the back of my mind” — revealing the most unethical things he’s ever done as a reporter.

“It was a throwaway column,” says Meade, who attended Eastern Michigan University in the 1970s but never graduated. (“I never took a journalism class, but I worked for four years at the Eastern Echo.”)

In a piece headlined “Journalism students: Don’t do this,” Meade admits to:

* “Reconstructing” quotes after losing his notes
* Favoring players he covered
* Going out with a beauty pageant winner after interviewing her
* Using a city manager’s quotes after being told not to (the official made the request at the end of the interview, so Meade wasn’t in the wrong)

“It was sort of a coming-clean column, but I didn’t think any of them were that serious,” Meade says. “And most of them happened at the first paper I worked for. I hope I wouldn’t do any of those things now. But if all journalists were candid they would say they’ve pushed the envelope before.”

Meade tells me that his 19-year-son — a pastoral ministry student — “thought it was good, and my sports editor thought it was funny.” As for other colleagues at the 20,000-circulation daily, “I don’t know if anyone on the staff read it.” (I don’t think he was joking.)

Jeff Meade

Readers weren’t amused by the piece:

“You need to find a new profession, sir,” one wrote in the comments. “You should be fired,” said another. “You’re pathetic.”

“These people weren’t as upset after I responded to them,” says Meade. “They thought I had written this for journalism students, but I didn’t. I didn’t write the headline.”

Meade’s piece circulated on social media, but “I didn’t know that it had stirred anything up” until the column was taken off his paper’s website — “maybe because the responses got out of hand.”

* Jeff Meade: Journalism students: Don’t do this (Monroe News)

“It’s a pack of lies that stood for 19 years. Somewhere, Brian Tierney is smiling.”

I emailed the Philadelphia journalist who wrote the above line, which appeared in a blog post headlined, “Ongoing Archdiocese Fire Sale Exposes 19-Year-Old Cover-Up of Cardinal Bevilacqua’s Lavish Spending,” and told him that Tierney is now at Poynter, heading its new foundation.

Ralph Cipriano, the “Fire Sale” story author and longtime church-watcher, wrote back:

I’m stunned. Anybody who thinks Brian Tierney should have anything to do with legitimate journalism should be looking at his role as an archdiocese spinmeister for the late Cardinal Bevilacqua.

Bevilacqua is a known criminal at this point who, according to a couple of grand jury reports, orchestrated a successful coverup over a decade that kept from prosecution 60 sexually abusive priests who had raped and molested hundreds of innocent children. And Tierney at every stage of the game was his spinmeister, the guy who when Bevilacqua was being repeatedly questioned by a grand jury, spun the story so that Bevilacqua was the victim.

In a 1998 American Journalism Review piece, a Philadelphia Inquirer editor told Alicia Shepard: “Tierney has made his reputation by representing the archdiocese and defending it against the Inquirer. His tactic is to be a bully. You go to a meeting with the archdiocese to ask legitimate questions and Tierney starts attacking the reporter.”

* Archdiocese fire sale exposes cover-up of cardinal’s lavish spending (
* Poynter names Brian Tierney the head of its new foundation (Philadelphia Weekly)
* From 1998: Cipriano sues editor over comment about his church coverage (AJR)

This 10-day-old little video seemed to go unnoticed on social media, probably because people didn’t realize it’s a birthday message to Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli, who turned 51 on June 19.

Marcus Brauchli

Lip-synching “We Are Young” are members of the Post’s social-interactive-innovations team. I’m told that appearing in the video are: Cory Haik, executive producer of news innovations and strategic projects (the video is shot in her office); Amanda Zamora, national digital editor; Melissa Bell, director of blog engagement; Katie Parker, digital and new products design; and Sarah Sampsel, deputy director of digital, mobile and new product design. (Please correct me if my source is wrong.)

* Watch the video here

UPDATE: I’ve been informed that Michael Calderone mentioned the video on Twitter earlier, and that one of the producers responded.

Dear Elizabeth Wurtzel:

I’m sorry not to have written sooner, but your letter and book landed in a pile that other things got on top of. I finally read P.N. [Prozac Nation] and I think you are a brilliant and funny writer. I don’t give quotes, took myself out of the quote business years ago when my vet wrote a book (I had pets once) and asked for a quote. Not to link you with my vet. Anyway, you are truly wonderful and so is your book and I hope they do not send you to places like Detroit to promote it, which could make even a person with no history of depression depressed. I cannot imagine that you would ever want to write a screenplay, but if you ever do, call me up. I’m in the book.

Very best,
Nora Ephron

* “Letter I received from Nora Ephron in 1994. I’d been meaning to respond” (@LizzieWurtzel)

About a month ago, I posted a letter about Reuters’ Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), which targets reporters that the company believes are “laggards.”

“[They] are handed a document that warns they could face termination if they don’t up their game, and given 30 days to turn things around,” a Reuters reporter explained to Romenesko readers on May 31.

Today a Reuters journalist writes: “There’s a new [PIP] casualty today: our ace Supreme Court correspondent Jim Vicini.”

The Romenesko tipster writes:

Jim has built an unmatched reputation for being accurate and fast on complex legal rulings. As we saw with yesterday’s healthcare ruling, it’s easy to blow it on stories like these. Jim had accurate headlines on the wire at 10:07 a.m., while CNN and Fox were reporting that the individual mandate had been struck down.

Jim’s reputation was cemented in December 2000, when he was the first reporter to figure out that the Supreme Court had handed the presidency to George W. Bush.

Rather than deal with the months of humiliation, he opted to leave Reuters.

Jim Vicini

Here is Vicini’s farewell message to colleagues:

After nearly 35 ½ years at Reuters, I have decidedly mixed emotions in letting everyone know that today is my last day.

It has been an honor and privilege to have made so many wonderful friends and to have worked with so many consummate professionals over the years.

I had the opportunity to report on the healthcare and so many other landmark Supreme Court rulings, the Justice Department, the 9/11 investigation, major trials, spies, terrorists, scandals, nine AGs and four FBI directors during the past 28 years.

I would be remiss not to mention that it all began in commodities — as a young reporter in his second job out of college doing a brief stint in New York, then covering the Chicago commodities markets, working on the commodities editing desk and finally reporting countless USDA crop reports after moving to the Washington bureau more than 30 years ago.

Our new bureau chief, Marilyn Thompson, recently remarked about the need for a “happy culture.” I totally agree with her and remember in years past the atmosphere of fun, exhilaration and joy in the Washington bureau while producing hard-hitting, market-moving wire service journalism that beat the pants off the competition.

Over the years, I have jokingly referred to colleagues about “Vicini’s rules.” I want to share a few in no particular order:

* The more paper in a government press packet handed out at a news conference, the less the news.

* The more times you get an email about an event, the less likely there will be news.

* Write fewer internal emails; write more stories.

With Debbie Charles when we worked on the beat together. If there’s a difficult decision with a colleague such as who gets the byline or who works on a weekend, flip a coin.

I am considering a wide range of really exciting ideas as I embark on a new chapter in my life, though I have yet to make a final decision on what I will do next. I will greatly miss so many of you, but we can stay in touch. [Contact info deleted]

UPDATE: The Newspaper Guild of New York says: We hope the departure of Jim Vicini and other talented journalists, including Washington economics correspondent Glenn Somerville a few weeks ago, makes management realize how counterproductive and damaging this [PIP] process is.”

Danny Sheridan

Four weeks ago, USA Today handicapper Danny Sheridan had 11,000 Twitter followers.

“Then, starting on the first of June, something crazy happened,” writes John Koblin. “His follower count started to skyrocket. Between June 1 and today, his Twitter follower count went from some 11,000 to nearly 400,000. For the last month, he has been picking up thousands and thousands of followers a day.”

WHAT SHERIDAN SAYS: “I have never, ever spent a penny to buy followers on Twitter.”

He emails Koblin:

the people responsible for this (claiming I’ve bought twiter names) appear to run criminal outfits, according to the DOJ & our country laws, and are only doing this to raise awareness to their name (by using my name & usatody’s name, as no one has ever heard of them including you). I intend to contact the DOJ about them, & my guess is they will then crawl under the rock they’ve always been. I’ve not broken any laws, let’s see if they can say the same thing if and when the DOJ contacts them

* Is USA Today’s veteran gambling guy buying Twitter followers? (USA Today)
* Join the hundreds of thousands following Sheridan on Twitter