Hyperlocal content creator Journatic is renamed LocalLabs

“I personally think we’re saving journalism,” Journatic founder Brian Timpone said in the summer of 2012.

I’m guessing he now regrets that remark.

Just months after the low-paying, hyperlocal content provider teamed up with the Chicago Tribune,journa “This American Life” revealed that Journatic occasionally used fake bylines for Filipino workers and some U.S. journalists. (“Jake Barnes” – remember him in “The Sun Also Rises”? – was one.)

The Tribune dropped Journatic over the bylines and other ethics breaches in July 2012, then five months later started using its services on a limited basis again. After that, though, few journalists paid attention to the embattled news/listings provider.

In January of this year, Journatic – the “savior” of journalism – was renamed LocalLabs “to better reflect the scope of the work we do,” says Hanke Gratteau, LocalLabs vice president for media services. “We don’t just work for media companies.” (My questions were emailed to CEO Brian Timpone, but he passed them on to Gratteau, a former Chicago Tribune editor.)

“Regarding your other questions [about which papers use LocalLabs], we don’t talk about our client list,” Gratteau writes in her email.

I have learned, though, that the Las Vegas Review-Journal is using the Chicago-based LocalLabs for one of its View neighborhood sections. (Publisher Ed Moss, who is known for cutting newspaper staffs, made the decision to hire LocalLabs as a cost-savings measure, I’m told. I’ve sent him some questions.)

The Review-Journal View section last week had stories by LocalLabs writers Jessica Sabbah (based in Chicago) and Kasey Schefflin-Emrich (in New York), along with stories by the five fulltime Review-Journal View journalists who fear they could lose their jobs to LocalLab contributors. (When contacted, Sabbah referred me to Gratteau without additional comment; I couldn’t reach Schefflin-Emrich.)

“The writers and editors are upset, and raised concerns, but they’re also resigned to their fate,” my source says.

He adds:

[R-J staffers are] also hearing most of the briefs and “community happenings” in the View are being outsourced to writers in India, and our local editors haven’t been able to interact with them. The Journatic writers clearly had trouble understanding the events they were writing about and have ZERO sense of Las Vegas (one even wrote that Downtown Vegas was about 6 miles east of where it really is).

* April 2012: Tribune Company invests in Journatic (tribune.com)
* July 2012: Chicago Tribune suspends use of Journatic (jimromenesko.com)


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