Newspapers appear anxious to win the tarnished plaque hanging between exiled and unethical journalists Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair on the journalism wall of shame.
Last Friday, the public radio program This American Life revealed that large, national organizations such as Tribune Co., the San Francisco Chronicle, the Houston Chronicle and the Chicago Sun-Times have been outsourcing their hyperlocal content to a company called Journatic. The irony is that Journatic’s employees are scattered across the United States and, in some cases, the Philippines, which leads me to the scandalous part of the puzzle: Journatic used aliases for its Filipino “writers.”
While Tribune Co., an investor in Journatic, sees the faceless (and nameless) company as a promising solution to its decreasing circulation numbers, I see it as an accelerated death sentence.
First and foremost, the situation is unethical. Brian Timpone, Journatic founder, claimed the aliases were a mistake, although he admitted that he did not see the harm in changing bylines since Journatic’s employees “are all real people.”
Question: Timpone, what code of ethics do the journalism professors teach at the University of Missouri? For journalists, words such as fake, false, fabricate, plagiarize, lie and copy are red flags, signaling the beginning of the end — an end that is not so much “happily ever after” as it is “shamefully ever after.”
Question 2: Timpone, I have no doubt that your employees are “all real people,” but are they all “journalists” (if that term even means anything anymore)?
Personally, my passion for journalism feeds off its challenges — the challenge to get published, the challenge of turning a bland press release into a creative and lively news story and the challenge of unveiling need-to-discuss issues in a way that will enrapture local readers.
I do not know how journalism is taught at the University of Missouri, and I do not know what code of ethics the newspapers that hired Journatic follow. What I do know is that my professors at the Nicholson School of Communication expect nothing less than the truth from me and my peers. They have taught me that conducting email interviews is a last resort, lying is evil and integrity is everything.
Lastly and most importantly, I learned that journalism is (or was) intolerable of and unwilling to forgive unethical behavior. Fate is full of irony. What you dish out will come back for you. Newspaper leaders: watch out. I see the big, red flag of unforgiving karma headed your way.
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