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Letter to Romenesko

From MARK POTTS: There’s a very weird link between the Journatic fake byline scandal and one of the most notorious newspaper fakery scandals: The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the fake byline Jeremy Schnitker used to submit 32 articles was Jake Barnes. That rung a bell, and a quick Google bore me out.

When Clyde Haberman famously got fired from the New York Times in 1966 for faking a report about a college award, the fictitious student he created was…Jake Barnes! It’s a “Sun Also Rises” allusion. I guess Schnitker (if that’s his real name) is a student of trivial journalism history!

[I've asked Schnitker and Journatic CEO Brian Timpone about "Jake Barnes."]

* Schnitker submitted 32 articles under pen name of Jake Barnes (SFGate.com)

UPDATE — Timpone emails: “‘The Sun Also Rises.’ One of our BlockShopper.com editors used it. I didn’t know the connection because I haven’t read the book.”

The Chicago Sun-Times, Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle join the Chicago Tribune in reporting that hyperlocal content provider Journatic slapped false bylines on real estate stories that ran in their paper. The Sun-Times says it’s immediately cutting ties with the Chicago-based company. (One reason is that rival Tribune is a Journatic investor.) “To be clear,” Journatic CEO Brian Timpone writes in an email, “we cut ties with the Sun-Times back in April [when Tribune invested in Journatic]. They asked us to extend our deal and give them a transition period. We were cordial and did that, even though we have no contract. So we’re apparently now ending the transition period for which they asked us. We wanted to end it months ago. Tribune is our exclusive partner in Chicago.”

The Chronicle reports:

An internal Chronicle investigation Monday found that BlockShopper contributor Jeremy Schnitker submitted 32 articles under the pen name of Jake Barnes in addition to 105 articles under his own name. Those were the only false names uncovered in the investigation.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed that our internal investigation uncovered these pseudonyms,” Chronicle President Mark Adkins said. “We will work with [Journatic's real estate site] BlockShopper to make sure these issues are resolved.”

Journatic CEO Brian Timpone claims aliases were used because “we were writing things that were controversial [and] our writers were being threatened individually by the subjects of stories. We did it to protect them from the threats.”

Journatic writer Ryan Smith told “This American Life” that the stories were written by staffers in the Philippines who were paid 35 cents per story.

Smith wrote on Twitter early this morning: “Just wanted to say I’m delighted to be getting all of this positive feedback & support from journos & others. Makes it all worth it.”

* More newspapers identify false bylines in Journatic stories (Chicago Tribune)
* Earlier: Journatic writer tells “This American Life” about fake bylines (JimRomenesko.com)
* Listen to the Journatic segment on “This American Life” (it starts at 26:16)

UPDATE: Ryan Smith tells Romenesko readers he’s going to work the rest of the week, then resign from Journatic. His email:

Ryan Smith

The fact that they didn’t fire me was very unexpected. When I came to This American Life, I had just assumed that they would get rid of me when they found everything I did. I told Sarah Koenig everything I knew, and I gave her access to Journatic’s databases and workspaces and even walked her through step-by-step on how to find things she was looking for. I also forwarded emails from Journatic bosses and gave her emails of about 30 of the writers/workers from the Philippines. I’m not sure, other than going to the Tribune Tower and setting the office on fire, that I could have done much more. I’m not sure what their game is other than it would maybe be a bad PR move if they fire the whistleblower./CONTINUES Read More