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Three Reasons You Should Care About the Journatic Scandal

Journatic Cartoon.jpg
Rob Tornoe, Poynter
Journatic reporters used fake names such as the Ernest Hemingway character “Jake Barnes.”";s:

If you’re a steelworker in West Virginia or furniture maker in North Carolina, you might be experiencing schadenfreude right now.

That’s because outsourcing has come to a white-collar industry: journalism.

“This American Life” recently brought us the story of Journatic, which paid Filipino workers as little as 40 cents a story to cover things like the new city budget in suburban Chicago.

TAL caught Journatic workers using false American-sounding names, like “Ginny Cox,” “Carrie Reed,” and “Jay Brownstone.”

These stories were showing up in large American newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle, and San Francisco Chronicle.

So if you’re a reporter, this is big news. But why should anyone else care?

Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's Sense-making Project gives us three reasons:

  1. It’s deceptive. Tricking readers and lying to them about who’s writing their stories is not great journalism.
  2. It’s lame. Re-writing press releases from city hall and calling it journalism is perhaps worse than no story at all. The Filipino “reporters” are not calling suburban officials to quiz them on the budget.
  3. The work of local watchdog journalism will fall increasingly on activist-citizens, not organizations like Journatic. They will notice wrong-doing, report on it, and alert the mainstream media to it, which will amplify it.

There’s still an argument to be made for automation and outsourcing of some stories – as Poynter’s Craig Silverman points out in an article which beings with: “I’m not a Journatic hater.”

He argues these trends are inevitable, so we might as well do this ethically.

He compares the current scandal to Mattel’s lead paint recalls in 2007.

Journalists bristle at the idea that some of what they do can be replicated by machines or by cheaper overseas labor. Yes, there are absolutely things we do that can’t be approximated by these operations. I believe that will always be the case. But other things absolutely can and will be. More and more, in fact. Just as the world of manufacturing continues to grapple with the need to exercise quality control over its offshore suppliers and factories, so too will news organizations that rely on outsourcing for information and news production.

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