Legal journalists in Australia were surprised last week to see Michelle Boatley’s byline back in Australasian Legal Business (ALB), a Thomson Reuters-owned publication.
A few years ago, Boatley was cranking out stories left and right — short pieces about law firm layoffs, merger deals, and firm expansions.
Then she vanished.
People who knew the secret about Boatley thought she had been killed — by her editors.
The prolific legal writer was not real, but a creation of ALB bosses. (They also used a fake George Beveridge byline on occasion, I’m told, but I can’t find any of his stories.)
“The names were there to make it look as if the ALB teams were bigger than they really were,” one of my sources writes in an email. “Also, so editors don’t have to use their own names on certain stories (no particular reason).”
ALB editors set up a fake Gmail account for Boatley a few years ago after an Australian PR firm tried to contact her about an error in a story. The firm’s email to her – it had ALB’s standard email-address format – kept bouncing back, so they contacted another ALB journalist. That Boatley colleague alerted editors to the no-contact-information problem, and a real email account was set up for the fake reporter .
A Facebook page was also created for the fictional reporter. [UPDATE: It's been taken down.] It’s a sad space, though: Boatley only has two Friends displayed on the page — her editor, Renu Prasad, and fake journalist George Beveridge.
I’ve asked Prasad and Thomson Reuters communications veep Barb Burg about the company’s policy on fake bylines and will post their comments when/if they come in.
UPDATE – A source on why Boatley’s byline reappeared: “Reporter Olivia Collings had left ALB recently to join a law firm so Boatley’s name was probably used again to ‘boost staff count.’”