Don't Believe Everything You Read?
Essentially that's what newspapers in Houston, San Francisco and Chicago confessed to publishing, both in print and online. The revelation was made on the radio program "This American Life."
According to the story on NPR, the offending newspapers admitted to "outsourcing" their news, some to a service called Journatic, the brainchild of Brian Timpone, a former journalist himself who created the service six years ago and has received a financial shot in the arm from the Tribune Co., parent of the Chicago Tribune, which also happens to be one of the offending papers.
In speaking with NPR, Timpone said due to cutbacks in newsrooms across the nation, newspapers struggle with content creation, therefore outsourcing the news to services like Journatic helps news outlets solve that problem.
As a former print journalist with 15 years of service in the industry, I am not surprised by this, at all. Unless you've sat in a production editor's chair and faced the pressure of filling a section with time as your enemy, you are unaware of what it takes to complete the product. Sources dry up, stories fall through, deadlines are missed and you're left with a gaping hole staring you in the face minutes before you're supposed to be on the press, and a quiet press room is a revenue-draining press room.
There's a reason newspapering is referred to from within as "The Daily Miracle." Bring on the copy, any copy.
At issue here is that the published stories were written by people paid pennies on the dollar to write about things they aren't experts on, and from places far from where the news was being reported. We're not talking a homicide spree in a major metropolis being reported by a stay-at-home mom on a farm in the plain states. One example is of a "reporter" in Asia reporting on real estate transactions in Northern California. It's local content, like police logs, community events and sports stories.
The problem is that newspapers have dramitically reduced the resources tasked with creating the content that fills the news hole. And we all know that one person can't be in two places simultaneously. To obtain the material that satiates readers' appetites reporters are asked to contribute a little more. That might mean a political reporter chasing down information for a human interest story, or filing a brief article on something unassociated to their specific beat. The only difference is they don't assign their byline to that article. And they get the news by making calls from their desks, not actually going to a site and interviewing sources.
Timpone admits that some of the content used shouldn't have received a byline. But does that make the situation right?
Well, I argue yes.
News outlets are always requesting their readers and viewers send in their photos or video for the outlets' online sites. Just this morning I went to the local news section of the Boston Globe's online site Boston.com and viewed a few dozen photos of July 4th celebrations throughout the city, all contributed by average citizens armed with cell phone cameras.
If news organizations are going to request the public help them fill their news hole, then we cannot turn around and say "shame on you" when they've paid for copy that was generated somewhere other than their own newsroom and by their own staffers.
We live in the age of the Internet, which allows us to Google anything from the price of a new television, to the latest Hollywood gossip to the history of the person that just moved in two doors down the street. And reporters use the Internet everyday to flesh out their stories. The only foul committed was the use of a fake name. Had no byline appeared, I doubt we'd be having this conversation today.
The truth is, news outlets were "outsourcing" their news long before this revelation was made. And I don't find anything wrong with that. If the articles are compelling, and the facts contained therein are correct, then I could care less if the news about the fire down the street was generated in Hong Kong.
What I do care about is that it's delivered in a timely and accurate manner that allows me to be better informed. When newspapers start publishing untruths and lies, then I'll take issue with lazy reporting.
What's your view on this issue?